This Nanny Knows More About Keeping Kosher Than Some – And She Is Not Jewish

This non-Jewish nanny knows more about keeping kosher than you

On TikTok, Adriana Fernandez shares her adventures and discoveries nannying for Orthodox families

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Accents say a lot within the Jewish world. You can often tell someone’s religious affiliation or family traditions or sometimes even guess at their politics through their pronunciation of certain words.

Adriana Fernandez speaks with what most people would call a yeshivish accent. She says “Sukkos” and “Shabbos” and “the aleph beis” like a nice yeshiva bokher from Flatbush. She can say a perfect Hebrew “ch,” talk about davening and chat about the ins and outs of maintaining a kosher kitchen.

She did not, however, go to yeshiva, nor did she grow up in Brooklyn. She’s from Florida. And she’s not Jewish.

Fernandez picked up her accent and Jewish expertise from nannying for frum, or Jewishly observant, families in Boca Raton. She’s been in high demand from Orthodox families for the past three years, nannying almost exclusively for the city’s Jewish community.

Fernandez, who works as an opera singer and teaches voice lessons when she isn’t nannying, began to document what she was learning on TikTok. In one video, she tells about the time she saw one of the moms’ wigs and thought she had cancer or alopecia until the kid explained about sheitels, the wigs worn by married Orthodox women — and then tugged to see if Fernandez’s hair was real. In another, she excitedly explains about the mikvah used to make plates and cutlery kosher, and then discovers, thanks to commenters, that there’s a “human mikvah” too.

It would be easy for all of this to come across as condescending, or for Fernandez to make fun of the habits of Orthodox Jews. But her respect is palpable. With each new fact she learns, her curiosity grows, and she often asks her supportive followers to help her understand something new.

Below, find out the things that have surprised her most in her frum nanny journey, edited for length and clarity — and because she spent half our conversation asking me about Jewish trivia.

How exactly did your frum popularity start?

I put my info on a nannying website and someone contacted me. Her name was Hadassah, but I’d never heard a name like that so I just thought maybe they’re using their last name. She asked me to babysit the kids after school and I was like yes, sounds cool.

But at the end of our little Facetime interview, she just randomly was like, “Oh, by the way, we’re Jewish, is that OK?” I was like, this poor woman, why would that not be OK? Now that I am more in the Jewish community, I’m learning that’s actually a thing, and you guys have so much persecution.

So I got there, and they didn’t really explain much, they were like, “You’re just here to play with the kids.” And then day by day I started learning. Oh — kosher. Oh, your homework is in Hebrew. Oh, what does this word mean? Oh, what is this snack?

And I messed up their names. I thought Eli was a girl. But I still babysit those kids.

And from there, it was just by word of mouth?

They have such a great unit, like family and neighborhood, so we’d go play outside. The moms were always more than accepting and friendly and slowly started coming up to me because they’d notice that I’m really good with the kids. So now my phone just blows up all day with people like, “I got your number from so-and-so!”

What’s your background — did you know a lot of Jewish people before this?

I’ve been to every type of school: homeschooled, charter school, private school. My private school was a Christian, Catholic private school. But the only Jewish kids I was around were when I went to public school in high school. It was your typical, they had a bar or bat mitzvah and they celebrated Hanukkah — sorry, Cha-nukkah. The kids yell at me for that all the time.

Don’t worry, my mom can’t say the chet either.

I feel like it’s a crime if I don’t say it right.

Anyway, I thought being Jewish was that they celebrated Hanukkah. None of them were kosher. I knew one person who was kosher and what I thought that meant was they just couldn’t eat a cheeseburger. So that was a huge learning curve for me.

Then all their holidays, different dressing, the sheitels — I was like, oh my gosh, this is a whole other world.

Sometimes the kids will come home with stories like Noah’s Ark — or Noach, is how they call him. Or Moses — Moshe. And so I would find that really interesting to relate, that we know the same stories.

I think it’s so fascinating and I love how dedicated the families are. And the kids! I can’t express how impressed with the kids I am. They are the most moral, driven kids. They never complain if they have to go daven. They never complain if they have to do homework in Hebrew. They never complain if we’re in a store and I say sorry, that’s not kosher.

How did you learn about all the rules of keeping kosher? It can be pretty complicated, especially in a fully kosher kitchen.

Well, obviously, if it’s in their house, they can eat it. But then I started to realize they can’t mix certain things, or certain things can’t go on this kind of plate — that was the biggest thing! I was always wondering like, wow, these people really don’t like doing dishes because there were so many plastic utensils. Now I know it’s just hard to have space for two sets of dishes, so they keep it around for the dairy.

At first, I was super oblivious, but once I started realizing all the super specific details, now I look into everything. Like the tissues in the bathroom — is this for a reason? Two beds — must be for a reason.

[Editor’s note: Some interpretations of halacha forbid ripping on Shabbat, so some observant families use tissues. For those who observe niddah, sex is forbidden while a woman is menstruating and two beds are common.]

Sometimes I’ll go to Google, but it’s pointless. I either just ask the kids or the parents, and now, the TikTokers. Because Google will use a lot of words that I’m not familiar with, and explain it in too much depth.

Are the kids ever resistant to keeping kosher?

Never. It’s mind-blowing! You’re dealing with children, like the age of 2½. They can understand kosher, Shabbos. They’ll throw a fit if I won’t buy them a toy or something, but if I say no, we’re not having that ice cream because it’s not kosher, you don’t hear another word.

But some of the kids do complain about walking on Shabbos to shul. Because it’s hot outside in Florida.

Do you find any of the customs confusing?

Someone on TikTok explained this to me, but I guess I’ve asked the kids why they can’t do arts and crafts on Shabbos, or why can’t you swim. In my head, I’m like, arts and crafts are so innocent! It’s not TV, it’s not immoral, it’s not something that’s bad for you, so why not?

But on the other hand, I’m just like, that’s how it is and I respect it. That’s what I respect about it, it’s about giving up something you want to do to completely honor Hashem and use that day to be with family. Your phone will be there tomorrow. You can swim tomorrow.

What’s been the most surprising thing you learned about?

In the beginning, it was just like, wow, I can’t believe they don’t use the vacuum cleaner on Shabbos, and so on. But then I realized they just clean before, turn the lights on before. Then it made sense to me, they’re still living a completely normal life. You just prepare, it’s not that complicated.

But then you go into all of the details — like not ripping! I can’t really pick.

I loved seeing you realize, in real time, in the comments of a TikTok video that the mikvah is not only for dishes.

Yes! Everyone has been dying for me to make another video on that. I’ve seen the item mikvah. I guess for the “people mikvah,” people do it after the woman’s period. But is there any other reason?

[Redacted overly long explanation of the textual basis for various mikvah uses.]

Wow, I feel like we could sit here and talk forever. And they also have a special medical team on Shabbat?

[Another lengthy explanation, also covering Shabbat elevators.]

The Shabbos rules kind of make me giggle. People always make a bunch of jokes about the Shabbos goy. I’ve never been a Shabbos goy! It usually doesn’t work with my schedule to babysit on Shabbos because I teach on Saturdays.

But I want to go to a Shabbos dinner! I’m afraid to say that online, though. I don’t want to intrude on anything.

You mentioned that you’re the only non-Jew a lot of these kids know. What have the kids been curious about from your life?

To them, “not Jewish” means I celebrate Halloween and Christmas. Or that I can eat bacon. It’s super general things that they know about from their stories about non-Jews. The kids always want to know about Halloween and Christmas, and then they are immediately like, “Santa is NOT real! Why is every single non-Jewish holiday lying about some made-up person — Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny!”

I’ve had moms ask me about my dating situation, about nightclubs — like, “Is that actually a thing? Is it actually that crazy?” I’ve worked at a nightclub and explained that people will pay thousands of dollars for alcohol and they’re like, “Wow, I’ve seen that in movies.”

This article was originally published on the Forward.
Banner Image: Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Image Credit – Dave Herring

Mira Fox The Forward

Mira Fox is a reporter at the Forward. Get in touch at [email protected] or on Twitter @miraefox.

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