To transform Mother’s Day from a greeting-card holiday to one that nurtures the Jewish neshama (soul), here is practical advice on how parents can inspire and cultivate a Jewish life for their children. We are hopeful that our Mother’s Day gift will keep giving and possibly impact future generations.
Joy of Judaism
The great thing is to have fun being Jewish. Have you visited little children at school having their Shabbat parties? They’re having a great time, with the candles, the songs, and the nosh. So Friday night is always a happy time, with singing and the warmth of the family table. Our children would bring friends to stay over as they got older or we would invite other families with children to celebrate with us. All the dressing up for Purim, hanging the Sukkot decorations and dodging the rain (we’re British you know!) .... all part of our home experience, and the children would bring back songs, Torah learning and decorations from school.
Everyone learns by example, and the Jewish mother leads by embracing the traditions, inviting guests, working for charities and helping others — all within the umbrella of a Jewish life. Our children went on to Jewish youth groups, Jewish summer camps, and took an active part in the Jewish life at their universities. And now we are enjoying the blessing of grandchildren as well.
Elaine Sacks is the wife of the British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (www.chiefrabbi.org). The Sackses have three children and five grandchildren.
Core to Family Life
We included our children in all of the things that we did so that what went on in our house was not off limits to them. We hosted representatives from Israel, different events and speakers for Jewish institutions. The house and artwork reflected that it was a Jewish home. There was Jewish art, sculpture and paintings, and the United States’ Declaration of Independence was hung right next to Israel’s Declaration of Independence. There was just such a Jewish sense. I took them to Shabbat services and did not drop them off. The ritual was not for adults or mothers only — but for families. Shabbat dinners. Everyone came. Observed all chagim (holidays) and made it part of their lives. My children grew up in a home in which being Jewish was truly important - a source of joy, never a burden.
I said to them when they were young — I will not say who to marry but that they need to marry Jewish. That is a tough thing to say. I am not certain most parents would do that. I felt that being Jewish was critical to our way of life and someone who did not understand Jewishness the way we lived it would not be able to be a complete partner.
Shoshana Cardin, who has held virtually every top communal leadership position in American Jewish life, is the mother of four children,
13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Create and live the narrative. Offer a living example filled with charity service, ritual and importance of family. I had always heard stories (of mythical proportion) on how my grandfather David and Bubbe Minnie helped their synagogue and worked tirelessly to bring their relatives over to America. My mother continued that tradition (or legend) and enlisted our whole family to support her overstretched involvement with temple, extended family and community arts groups. There was no opt-out; her commitments had to fit into our own personal schedules.
Friday nights, High Holy Days and Passover were always family rituals with a table full of invited guests. In retrospect, the food was marginal and unhealthy but the Kiddush, conversation and family involvement were 100 percent nutritional.
The bottom line is that it a lot of it happens in the home. Thought, intention and action all come through habitual first-hand experience and cannot be delegated to outside educators and religious leaders. My parents knew the text and prayer but were in no way Talmud scholars. However, my mother was great at walking the walk and inspired my sister, brother and me to continue the amazing Jewish tradition and live a life worth living.
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