by Sara Bellin
With the arrival of a tiny baby comes an enormous flurry of excitement and preparation. Car seats and strollers are researched and tested. Cribs are assembled, and miniature clothing is washed and gently folded into waiting drawers. The home is swept up in happy chaos, getting every corner ready for the newest member of the family. In all of the elated anticipation and meticulous planning, it can be easy to overlook the preparation that can be done to make the home a place that– even from the first day back from the hospital– will surround a child with Jewish values.
Take a moment of reflection alone or with your partner. What are the core Jewish values that you want to share with your child? Write them down, and keep them somewhere safe or even display them on the refrigerator, because these values will guide so many decisions and fascinating conversations in the years to come. This list will evolve over time as your family grows and changes and learns, but this is an exciting starting point for this moment.
List in hand, brainstorm ideas for how to make these values real in your home today. A home filled with mitzvot, with opportunities to do good and connect to our spiritual selves, impacts a child even before he or she can put a coin in a Tzedakah box or light a menorah.
Keeping a charity box within easy reach is a wonderful way to make kindness a part of your child’s daily life. Establish a ritual of putting a few coins in the tzedakah box together at meaningful times, such as before Shabbat begins. Let your children see you adding coins without fanfare a few times during the week. They will learn that not every good deed must be applauded, and that we squeeze in small acts of kindness even when no one is looking. When your children get older, set aside some time to research charities together and choose a new one every few months. Empty out the tzedakah box and send off the money together. Your children will know that they have made a real difference in the lives of others.
One of the hallmarks of a Jewish home, a mezuzah is traditionally considered a reminder of God’s continued protection and our constant faith. The mezuzah case contains a small scroll inscribed with the words of the Shema prayer. It proudly hangs on each door or entryway, prompting us to remember the Torah and “tell it to your children… when you rest in your home and when you go on the way”. Others see the mezuzah as a touchstone, a reminder of enduring Jewish tradition and the resilience of the Jewish people. Through thousands of years, Jewish text and identity have survived, binding us to one another and to the timeless rhythm of Jewish life. The mezuzah says the same thing to children as it does to each of us: You are part of something great, something treasured and cherished.
While in some communities, Shabbat candles are lit only by married women as they usher in Shabbat for their household, other Jewish circles encourage young girls to begin lighting their own candle as early as the age of three years old. The Shabbat candle glowing from atop the candlesticks is a symbol of light shining out into the darkness. It represents tikkun olam, the imperative to better the world, to shine light where light can be hard to find. When a child participates in the weekly lighting of the Shabbat candles, especially with a special candle of her own, she learns that she has a singular voice to contribute to the world. That her little light is important, and that she has the privilege and the responsibility to use her own shining heart and mind to better the world around her.
The beautiful Shabbat table, laid out with a pristine cloth and heavy with delicious food, is one of the most poignant Jewish memories for many people. The conversation, the glowing candles, and the two shining challah loaves all imprint themselves on a child’s mind. The joy of shabbat, of gathering together away from the stress and worry of the rest of the week, is something that sticks with us for our whole lives. It is one of the moments that encapsulates the joy of Jewish life, the beauty of Jewish tradition and ritual. It is so important that as we educate our children in Jewish values, we share the simcha, the joy of it. A special kiddush cup of their very own is a wonderful way to beautify the Shabbat experience. Something set aside just for Shabbat, maybe even in their favorite color, teaches children that mitzvot are something to look forward to, to celebrate, to fulfill with joy and pride. This happiness will spill over into everything that they do.
This is just a place to begin, just a few opportunities to thoughtfully incorporate your personal Jewish values into your home. Whether you are preparing to welcome your first child or you are already raising your tribe, think creatively about what is most precious to you, and create a home that reflects who you are. Children are experts at reading between the lines, at studying not just what we say, but what seems to be most important to us. They want to know what we hold dear, and why. So jot down a few ideas, and create moments that you and your children can explore and celebrate Jewishly, together.
How do you incorporate your own Jewish values into your home? Share your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #kolbojewishvalues