10 ways to help your child develop a Jewish identity; Bake challah from scratch. Make a big mess.
Any time is a good time for parents of young children to start thinking about becoming Jewish grandparents.
If you want to share your grandchild’s bar or bat mitzvah someday, then you need to make sure you are doing everything you can to help your own young ones develop a Jewish identity.
While no single action will ensure your child grows up as an identifying and affiliated Jew, there are a lot of choices that make sense. They seem to be working, so far, in my family.
Top ten ways to raise Jewish children:
1. Join a synagogue
And not just for the High Holy Day tickets. Find a congregation that fits your lifestyle, that isn’t too far away from your home and that seems warm and welcoming. Shop around; keep trying until you find one that fits. Try to find a congregation that has a playground and special services for young children, or at minimum a rabbi who doesn’t mind having kids explore his office when they get bored during services.
2. Take your children to services and don’t drop them off with the synagogue baby sitter. Yes, I know, kids are noisy and they can disrupt services at the very worst time. But I think allowing them to learn to love Judaism with their ears and their eyes and their hearts is very important.
When my daughter was a toddler, she sat enthralled every time the cantor began to sing. She cried if the rabbi forgot to call the kids up to the bima (pulpit) at the end of services.
When you go to synagogue, bring along some activities to keep children happy.
3. Make Shabbat special in your home. Prepare a special dish the family enjoys. Light candles. Drink grape juice. Serve challah. Say the blessings. Say “Shabbat Shalom.” Even when you’re not at home, light candles in your room at Disneyland.
Pick up 40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People by Joel Lurie Grishaver. It’s full of great ideas. Bake challah from scratch at least once a year. Cover your entire kitchen with flour. Make a big mess, then eat the special Shabbat bread with gusto and pride.
4. Make a huge deal out of the “fun” Jewish holidays, like Purim and Passover, Succot and Simchat Torah. Build a succah. Eat in it and even sleep in it, weather permitting. Dress up for Purim, visit friends, go to a Purim party, or even host one. Make the Passover seder the most fun, creative event of the year. Write a play, create finger puppets, make plague bags. Dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah. And is there anyone who doesn’t know how to have fun during Chanukah?
5. Buy Jewish children’s books. There are so many wonderful new books published each year. Get kids ready for every Jewish holiday by reading about the holiday. My daughter and I even prepared to see a performance of “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” by pulling out our book of Torah stories. It helped her follow along and she remembered all evening that this entertainment was based on stories in the Torah.
6. Give your children a formal Jewish education. Send them to religious school or enroll them at a Jewish day school. Or home school them for their Jewish education, but don’t do nothing. Encourage them to get involved in a youth group. Send your kid to Jewish summer camp. I’m still amazed at the way my friends’ eyes light up when they talk about their summer camp experiences, 20-plus years ago.
7. Make sure your children go to Israel at least once during their youth. Go as a family if you can, but your children may get even more out of a youth group experience on their own.
8. Sing Jewish songs in the car, at the dinner table, on a hike and, of course, at your synagogue.
9. Be a lifelong learner and practitioner of Jewish values. Set a good example whenever you can and your children will likely follow in your footsteps.
Recognize learning opportunities. Study Judaism enough so you learn the values our people cherish. Then, look for teachable moments – where a Jewish value guides a decision or opinion. My husband and I teach our daughter about math in the grocery store, but we also teach her about tzedakah when we buy extra food for the food bank.
10. Subscribe to your Jewish newspaper. It’s a window into the local, national and global Jewish world. In it, you can read about Israel, Jewish holidays, ideas and events about which Jews feel passionate. And when the Jewish community is debating an issue people feel strongly about, you can get involved in the conversation.
Donna Blankinship is a freelance writer residing in Seattle.