She knows the ins and outs of keeping a kosher kitchen, her daily vocabulary includes words like mitzvah and tzinus and she can pronounce the Hebrew “ch” like a native speaker. But what has most amazed fans about Adriana Fernandez, Tik Tok’s “non-Jewish nanny,” isn’t just her grasp of Jewish lingo— it’s her appreciation of the Orthodox community.
Fernandez picked up her Jewish vocabulary and expertise over the last three years babysitting for Orthodox families in Boca Raton, Florida. When she was first hired, Fernandez didn’t know what Kosher meant and could barely pronounce the family’s Jewish names— but she learned quickly. Today, she can talk tips for tin foil wrapping your counters and where to shop for tzinus (modest) outfits.
“I’m still shocked that making these silly little videos would have any sort of impact,” Fernandez said, when we sat down for an interview. “I get messages from people like: ‘I’m in my kitchen in tears because I just can’t believe that somebody who is not Jewish has so much respect for our lifestyle.’”
In recent years, the Hasidic community has had a bit of a bad rap within popular culture. Netflix shows like Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life have depicted an experience of Hasidic Judaism that many say can be misleading, and portrays only a partial picture of a diverse community.
That’s why, watching Fernandez discover the intricacies of living a Jewish life with respect and appreciation has struck a chord with Jews on Tik Tok.
“I just wanna say, you’re one of my favorite accounts. It’s so fun to see the world I live in through someone else’s eyes,” one commenter wrote on a video of Fernandez pronouncing Jewish names.
“I’m Jewish (not orthodox tho) I appreciate so much that u are so respectful and willing to learn about our culture,” a different Tik Tok user wrote on another video.
Learning on the job
For Fernandez, picking up Jewish vocabulary and understanding the culture and traditions is part of the job.
“How can I be a good nanny and connect with these kids if I don’t know what questions to ask them… What are you going to do for Sukkos? What are you going to wear? What are you cooking? I feel like I need to know as much as I can about their life to connect and be their friend,” she said.
She has been around the community long enough to pick up cultural nuances.
“Every so often I’ll go to a family I’ve never babysat for and the mom will be like: ‘On Shabbat can you just press that button,’ and I’m like: ‘Yeah, I know how to be the Shabbos goy,’” Fernandez recounted, with a laugh.
Her quick wit and curiosity about Jewish culture has made her a hot commodity within Boca Raton’s Jewish community— and in the digital world.
In the spring of 2022, Fernandez was shocked when her first video about being a “non-Jewish nanny” reached over half a million views. She said the amount of interest was totally unexpected. Since then, she has continued making videos answering questions about her own experiences, asking her followers to help her understand new things about Jewish life, and sharing funny stories— like the time she spotted one of the moms’ wigs and thought she had cancer or alopecia until the kid explained that married Orthodox women wear sheitels (wigs).
She didn’t set out to become a “Jewish influencer” but she certainly took the Jewish Tik Tok world by storm.
In each of the videos, her respect for the community is palpable. Even on videos that might be perceived as negative, like her story about the time she was “dress-coded” for not dressing tzinus.
“I love how respectfully you share your stories!” fellow Jewish Tik Toker Melinda Strauss commented on that video.
The secret to pronouncing the “ch” sound
Although she’s known on Tik Tok as the “non-Jewish nanny” Adriana Fernandez is classically trained as an opera singer— she has both an undergraduate and Master’s degree in music vocal performance. Fernandez started babysitting part-time to help pay the bills during graduate school and today works as an opera singer and private music teacher when she’s not nannying.
“My opera practices are usually in the evenings, so nannying during the day worked out perfectly for me,” she said.
It’s Fernandez’s opera training that prepared her for the challenge of pronouncing Hebrew and Yiddish.
“As an opera singer we take classes in vocal pedagogy, diction and sight-singing, which is the way that opera singers learn how to pronounce everything correctly,” she explained. “I studied German, French and Italian, and I was also a TA (teaching assistant) in German, French and Italian diction during my Masters.”
Learning new languages and pronunciations comes naturally to her, she added.
“People within the Jewish community always ask how I can say all these words and sounds,” she laughed. “It’s very easy for me to imitate and pick up other languages because I do it all day long with opera. Plus, Yiddish and German have a lot of similarities, so that helps.”
Fernandez’s spot-on Yeshivish accent might make it seem like she was affiliated with the Jewish community prior to her babysitting jobs, but she actually had very little prior knowledge of Judaism.
“I put my information on a babysitting site and within days, a woman named Hadassah contacted me for a FaceTime interview,” Fernandez said. “I’d never heard a name like that so I just assumed she was using her last name. Then, at the end of the call, she was like: We’re Jewish, is that OK?”
It was a bit of a culture shock, she noted.
“I told her: Why would that not be OK?”
Now that Fernandez babysits almost exclusively for the Jewish community, she understands the uneasiness.
“Since I’m more in the Jewish world, and I’m learning a lot from my followers on Tik Tok, I know that there is so much persecution against Jewish people,” she told me.
She has also received antisemitic comments about her job within the Jewish world.
“I had someone say to me: ‘Wow, you’re a nanny for the Orthodox Jewish community? That must suck. Seems like a lot of extra work,’ she recounted. “I was blown away that people think that way. For me, it makes my life more interesting.”
Fernandez leads with curiosity and sincerity.
“Sometimes I walk into the house and for some reason the entire countertops are wrapped in tin foil,” she said, chuckling. “I don’t know what is happening, but I definitely want to know why!”
Kill em’ with cuteness
If there’s one thing that shuts down bigoted comments, it’s cute kids, she said. Although Fernandez doesn’t normally show children in her videos, she often shares endearing or funny anecdotes from her babysitting endeavors.
“Kids are so innocent so it really brings a different viewpoint,” she said. “My content is meant to be sweet and respectful, and share this community from a perspective that is usually not shared.”
The children will often ask about her religion and are intrigued by the fact that she isn’t Jewish, she said.
“A few of the kids have said to me: ‘You’re not a Jew, but Hashem (God) loves you and he put you here to take care of Jewish people,’” Fernandez told me. “I agree and I’m happy about it!”
The Jewish community has supported her through difficult periods, Fernandez added, and she has learned a great deal from being around them.
“Instead of playing video games, these kids go outside to play. It’s the little things like that, that are so genuine and simple. They have helped me grow to be happier personally,” she said.
“Being around these kids and mothers reminds me to be super thankful for the life I’ve been given, to be present and to be a really loving, accepting person.”
Originally Published Nov 8 2022 01:39PM EST