Dear Debra: Strengthen Those Jewish Ties

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Dear Debra,

After reading last month’s article about Jewish families decorating trees, I began to think about having one in our house next year. Our son has been asking for a tree and, like one of the moms in the article, I don’t want him not to like being Jewish because he’s missing out. Would it really be wrong to have a tree next year?

~ Confused

 

Dear Confused,

In a word, yes. Holiday tree, Chanukah bush, solstice shrub, it’s all the same thing — Jews trying to sanitize a dominant Christian symbol because they feel lacking. Your son doesn’t need a tree; he needs roots.

Your child is missing out. But what he’s missing out on is the richness of Jewish life. More than anything, kids want their parents’ time and attention. Use the Jewish holiday calendar to create loving memories with your child. Space prevents me from hitting them all or going into depth and instruction. Subscribe to kveller.com. Read Jewish books. Join a synagogue. This paper is filled with opportunities for young families seeking to strengthen their Jewish muscle. We are blessed with amazing community resources. Tap into them!

Shabbat is a perfect time to devote yourselves to your kids in ways you can’t during the week. Start slowly. Make your family’s Shabbat experience distinct and special. Light and bless candles (in Hebrew or English) before your Friday night meal. Serve bubbly grape juice and recite Kiddush. A couple loaves of challah and the motzi (blessing over bread) will distinguish your meal even if you’re ordering in. Buy special games to play on Friday night and Saturday. Invite friends to celebrate with you. Start once a month and expand.

Tu b’Shevat marks the coming of spring in Israel. Though not widely celebrated, you can still take the opportunity to mark Jewish time. Cut off the tops of some carrots and put them in a little flat dish of water. Keep your dish watered and, before you know it, the carrot tops will start to sprout like magic. Jewish magic. Or plant little seeds of parsley that you can harvest for Passover.

But before you get there, celebrate Purim. Dress up in costumes; go to one of the area’s synagogue carnivals. Find a kid-friendly service to hear the Megillah read. Make hamentashen with another family. As you roll the dough, talk about what being Jewish means.

On to Passover. Frogs! Hail! Dipping that home-grown parsley. Acting out the Exodus. Staying up later than late. There are books galore and Haggadahs written specifically for young families. There is a ceremony of seeking out chametz (leavened bread and other things) involving a wooden spoon, a feather and a candle performed the night before Pesach begins. It’s meaningful. It’s fun. It’s Jewish.

By the time you tire of matzah, Israel Independence Day, Yom Yerushalayim and Yom HaShoah are coming. I’ll leave the last two to you to research, but the community’s yearly Walk for Israel is another chance to be with other Jewish families, have some pizza and show the world (or at least West Bloomfield) where you stand as you walk.

Tisha b’Av is not so kid-friendly, so look to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Whatever way you slice it, you have oodles of ways to engage your child in meaningful Jewish experiences within the synagogue and without. Go apple picking and buy local honey from a beekeeper. Use Yom Kippur as a time to reflect on behavior. Forgiveness is a two-way street. Ask your child’s forgiveness for something you regret having done. It sets an enormous example when a parent admits his/her own failings and apologizes.

Sukkot puts Christmas tree envy to bed once and for all. Build or visit a sukkah. Let your kids decorate to their hearts’ content. Paper chains, strings of lights, streamers, artwork. Waving the lulav and inhaling an etrog’s lemony scent hardwire Jewish sensory memories. Ditto eating in a sukkah. Simchat Torah celebrations abound at community synagogues. Check your Jewish News when the time comes.

Now you’re back to Chanukah, the holiday commemorating an ancient Jewish battle fought against the ruling Greeks and assimilated Jews for the right to maintain Jewish life and ritual. Fry up some latkes. Let your child choose and light his own Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah). Play dreidel; maybe even go nuts on presents.

Spend the coming year focusing on the roots, and the tree won’t loom so large ever again.

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