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Week 16: "'A' is for Abe"

Daniel Barash

It was the evening before one of Aviva’s best friends’ birthday party. She was turning 4, and we’d been looking forward to celebrating for quite some time. In addition to my new favorite gift-book, “Before After” (see week 6), we wanted to create something special for her from scratch. But what could that be? Challah, of course, in the shape of an “F,” the first letter of the birthday girl’s name!

The backstory: Aviva became utterly fascinated with letters over winter break. She had been mildly interested before, singing the ABC’s, reading Sara Pinto's The Alphabet Room, and completing a Melissa and Doug Alphabet Art Puzzle on her own. She had even begun to spell her own name on her drawing pad. While we were excited about the world of letters that was beginning to enter the landscape, we were not in any hurry, as we knew (see Week 4) that when she did discover letters, there was no turning back.

But here she was during our winter holiday, surrounded by three generations (16 people in all) who had gathered to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, for five days! It didn’t take long for her to ask: “How do you spell Cousin Abe’s name? Let’s write it down!” An avalanche of spelled names soon ensued:

N-A-N-A   T-R-U-D-Y

Z-A-I-D-E   L-A-Z-E-R 

U-N-C-L-E   J-O-N

A-U-N-T   D-E-B-R-A

C-O-U-S-I-N   R-A-F-I

And on and on!

The letters were of course less than perfect, and their spatial orientations were all over the map, but there they were, nonetheless, the building blocks, the ingredients for all that will soon follow. And soon after we returned from our trip, she began asking for the spelling of actual words: first came “moon,” then came “stars,” then “Little Lumpty,” from said book, and then “Aurora” (Don’t ask where this request came from, I have no idea!).

Word Find: Daniel, Papa, Mark, Aurora, Roar

Word Find: Daniel, Papa, Mark, Aurora, Roar

Her fascination actually reminds me of an old Jewish folktale in which a shepherd boy is sitting in synagogue. Not knowing how to read the prayers, he nonetheless knows the letters of the aleph-bet, and begins loudly reciting them, hoping that they will be “assembled” into words that can be understood. When some older congregants complain to the Rabbi, he admonishes them, and praises the efforts of the boy, for it is clear that the boy’s prayers had come from the heart.

As we have completed more than a quarter of our “Challah-it-Forward” Challenge, it is my hope that our actions are beginning to resonate with Aviva’s heart. That our small offerings, week after week, are “assembling” a notion of caring and sharing that will grow and flourish as she learns more about the complexity of life, and the roles that we all have in shaping it.