Inspired by Amy at HomeShuling’s Top Ten Jewish Rituals Your Family Will Love, here’s my own list of, well, if you do only FIVE Jewish things with your kids this year…
Even five is a hard list to come up with, considering the bazillions of Jewish things we do every single day. Sure, it’s easy to be smug… but harder to think of a few that we can really focus on doing better in the coming year. All of us, together. Not just little kids, but big kids, too.
(everything is easy and fun with little kids!)
Despite the title, you’ll notice that these aren’t all rituals. They’re not even all specific mitzvot. Just Jewish things I hope to try or keep up with my kids this coming year… and I hope you will, too.
1. Bentsch (bless) your kids. How cool is it that I (me!) am a conduit for bracha. With teenagers, there is sometimes a mutual lack of respect in the air that taints every interaction. Bentsching your kids sets that balance right, at least a bit. You are the progenitor (one of my father’s favourite words!); you give the brachas, they receive the brachas. You give the life, they receive the life – hopefully, with a bit of gratitude. My favourite, as I’ve said before – let your kids see your parents bentsch YOU. It looks and feels GOOFY as anything, but hopefully they’re learning as they watch. (Overlap Alert: This is Amy’s #9.)
2. Make Challah. Not just Jewish bread, any old day, but special bread, with special care and attention that goes into making it special for Shabbos / Shabbat. Call the day whatever you like, but when your kids see how much you care about a simple loaf of bread, they’ll perk up their ears and listen. Making the bracha, if you have enough dough to do it, is a special bonus.
3. Acknowledge Jewish time. Rosh Chodesh is special, and we have always observed it with Slushies, as our faithful have done since time immemorial. Marking the passage of the months was the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people, and it’s in our hands to keep it going, even today. Whether it’s Jewish birthdays, watching the moon, celebrating Rosh Chodesh, find a way to call attention to Jewish time and make it special. (Overlap Alert: This is Amy’s #8, but I’m downplaying the actual Blessing of the New Moon.)
4. Spend money on Judaism. Not because Judaism is all about money, but sometimes we pay for stuff quietly and our kids don’t really know it cost anything. Let them know that Jewish objects, Jewish experiences, Jewish education, are worth money. They don’t need to know the exact amount, and I certainly don’t mean you should kvetch openly about how much you paid for candles or a challah cover… or their tuition (ha). Just let them know it’s literally worth something to you.
(in case you think it’s too Jewish-stereotype to talk about shul dues, tickets, etc., remember that most Christian kids see their parents turn over an envelope or cash donation for the collection plate every single Sunday, while the idea of paying to support the shul will come as a surprise to many Jewish kids)
5. Study Torah leaders… and be like them. I saved the hardest for last. Many Jewish kids, if they’re not chassidim, grow up unaware of modern gedolim like Yosef Soloveitchik, Moshe Feinstein, Nechama Leibowitz, Shimshon Refael Hirsch – among SO many others. Here’s my shameful secret: I’m dumb & get a lot of those guys/gals and their yeshivas all mixed up. So pick one or a couple that resonate – if you see a commentary you like, find out who said it and see if you can find a pattern in that person’s writings and commentaries. This is hard to translate onto a kiddie level. Share stories of gedolim and learn right along with your children how to walk in their ways. Here’s a site to help you get started!
Whoah! Five is HARD – I’m just so glad I didn’t say I’d think of TEN!!! Of course, I have left off the biggie, the one that scares me most…
6. Daven (pray) with your kids. Teach them Jewish ways to pray and also teach them heartfelt ways, in any language they understand. With my little kids getting bigger and understanding more, this is the year I really, really want to make a serious practice of beginning each day with Tefillah. It’s not easy… but it is important.
What do you do with your kids that’s special to you now, or that you hope to do with them in the coming year? I’d love to hear about it and learn from others’ ideas!