As most parents know, when you have small children, your social life takes a major hit. Gone are the days when Friday night meant going out and blowing off steam at the end of a hard week. But just because you have to stay home, does that mean that you can’t have fun on a Friday night? The answer, I am happy to say, is no.
My wife and I have two girls aged 4 and 2. When our oldest daughter was born and we found ourselves in the familiar place of being home on a Friday night, we thought it would be good to enhance our evening by celebrating Shabbat. So, we lit the candles, sang “Shabbat Shalom” and said the prayers over the grape juice and challah. We didn’t set out to start a tradition, but that is exactly what ended up happening.
As our daughter got older, she began really looking forward to Shabbat. She started singing “Shabbat Shalom” with us and even learned the prayers without us having to teach her. Our daughter began talking about it to her friends and teachers at school, and looked forward to the times when we had special guests for Shabbat dinner, like Grandma and Papa, Saba and Savta, or friends. By the time our second daughter was born, the tradition was going full force, so, naturally, she also grew up excited about Shabbat.
Now, Shabbat dinner is the highlight of the week for all of us. We have added some elements over the years that have made the tradition even better. For example, when we are eating the meal, we ask everyone at the table two questions: “What was your favorite thing that you did this past week?” and “What are you looking forward to doing the most next week?” The answers vary each week (except that our younger daughter always answers “Meeting Pooh and Rabbit” because, let’s face it, what is more exciting than meeting your favorite characters at Disney World). Our older daughter now leads the discussion and it is one of the many highlights of the evening.
One of the main reasons why we decided to take part in the Parenting Through the Jewish Lens class was to learn more about how we could connect with our children and become better parents. Now that we had this standing weekly forum with our kids, a fantastic opportunity was created to teach important Jewish values, such as tzedakah, to them. The discussions and lessons that have filled our class each week have provided a strong guide for us to accomplish these goals.
The key is that while so much of Judaism, or any religion for that matter, is formal, there are so many opportunities to celebrate and worship in an informal way that is fun and inspiring. By starting this new tradition, our kids have grown up loving Shabbat. They enjoy the singing and dancing, eating Challah and drinking grape juice, our weekly conversation, and most of all, time when our entire family can be together and celebrate something special every week. Isn’t that what Shabbat is all about?