Nina Shapiro didn’t intend for the video of her son’s singing to go viral. The Perth, Australia, mother of two describes herself as “paranoid about my kids being on social media.”
But after the minute-long clip of 6-year-old Bibi belting an impassioned version of Avinu Malkeinu landed on Twitter and Facebook on Friday, Shapiro is wondering whether she might want to take another approach.
“I’m totally overwhelmed by the impact it’s had,” Shapiro told JTA from her home in Western Australia. “It wasn’t built with an intention to be a performance.”
Exactly how the video got from a family text chain to thousands of Jewish viewers is unclear, but there’s no question that Bibi’s performance of a song he learned at his school is resonating with many on the eve of the High Holy Days.
The video spurred a rumor that the video starred a son of Amar’e Stoudemire, a Black basketball player and recent convert to Judaism.
Others who amplified the video did know who Bibi was, even though he is not identified in it. They included people associated with Sinai Academy, the school outside Cape Town, South Africa, that he attended before the family moved to Australia two years ago. Shapiro credited both that school and the one he attends in Perth, Carmel School, with developing her son’s love for Judaism.
“I see how he comes back singing happily and with his own free will,” she said. “It hasn’t been a dictatorial kind of, ‘You will learn this because you have to.’ They teach with love. That’s been passed on to him and that’s what he gives back.”
We spoke to Shapiro — perhaps now to be known forever as Bibi’s mom — about the video. How did it end up on social media?
“I took the video in our dining room and sent it to a few family members,” she said. “I don’t believe in exposing my children on social media. But obviously somewhere along the line, it wound up there. I don’t know how — none of the big Facebook posters are anybody I’ve ever heard of or sent it to.
“It’s not something I would have chosen but it’s happened and the positive responses have just been overwhelming.”
She said that when she told a close friend she was upset by what happened, the friend replied, “Hashem obviously wanted this message to go out in this way.”
“I really am trying to take it from this perspective,” Shapiro told JTA.
“He is such a passionate little boy. He’s been singing all his life, all the time, from when he was a baby. When he heard an advert on TV he would copy it. He’s very sensitive and very passionate and I think it comes across.
“I realize there were a few mistakes. If I had been planning to share I would have made sure it was perfect before I posted worldwide — but this shows things don’t have to be perfect to have real impact and that also made me happy. His purity and his innocence and his passion are touching.”
Shapiro said her son is thus far unaware of the excitement he’s created.
“He knows nothing about this. I’ve made copies of some of the comments for when he’s older but not for now. He doesn’t know what Facebook is or Twitter, Instagram. He knows that I am happy and other people are happy when he sings and that’s all that matters.”
When someone said, “This is a future hazzan,” “that’s really meaningful to me. When I knew that I was having a boy, one of the first things that went through my mind was I would so love him to be on the bimah at shul, not even knowing of his musicality.”
She said some people commented that they’d never before heard the English translation of “Avinu Malkeinu.”
“If as a child I had learned it this way, it would have been so meaningful. I’m so glad my child gets to understand what he’s singing.”
She pointed out that during the pandemic, even people going to synagogue are often discouraged from singing, and frequently children aren’t present. “To hear a child sing is sort of unusual right now,” she said.
“We’re very lucky in Perth — it’s one of the very few places in the world that COVID hasn’t impacted. We’re still able to go to shul with restrictions. So if he’s able to provide that for people, then what an incredible blessing and miracle. I’m awed that my little boy could do that for people.”
As to reaction to Bibi’s Black skin, Shapiro noted that someone said, “He doesn’t look Jewish but he sounds it.”
“It just shows you that you don’t have to look Jewish to be Jewish.
“Bibi is adopted — we adopted each other when he was a baby. He has been raised Jewish, and it’s all he knows. Halachically he is a Jew. I’ve come to realize he has a Jewish neshama even though entering the world he was not born into a Jewish family.”
“Perth is a very small Jewish community, with one school and no kosher restaurants. And there are very few non-whites day-to-day if you’re in a certain area. A racially diverse Jewish community it is not at all, but from the first moment, I have never felt anything but accepted and included and welcomed across the board. It’s not to say it’s not ever going to be hard, but it hasn’t been our experience.”
As for Amar’e Stoudemire, “When I saw that people were saying he was Amar’e’s son, initially I was angry. But it wasn’t so much about racial stereotyping,” she said. “I googled the family, and they do look similar. I was upset that somebody had the audacity to post that without checking the facts.
“It would be interesting to know if [Stoudemire’s son] did sing. I would love for Bibi to have more Jewish not-white role models. There’s a rapper who came to South Africa, Nissim Black. The concert was only for adults but I would have loved to have taken him to that.”