Sunday, February 23, 2014

shabbat... with children...

Shabbat observance, along with most everything else, is something that evolves and changes when children are introduced into a household. "Shabbat with children" almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it, moms?! But shabbat rest is certainly more than kicking up your feet or taking a nice, long nap. When your soul is at rest with its Creator, then you can have rest... whether it's in a quiet home or one filled with screaming, running children...

Since I only have two children, ages 5 and 2, I cannot speak for the mothers who have more and have older children, but I will try my best to generally speak about what Shabbat can be like for mothers, and soon enough I will be able to speak with more experience as my little ones grow bigger and/or G-d chooses to give us more children.

I remember being in a college classroom (at a Christian university) hearing a classmate express her experience of "keeping the Sabbath," as she was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist home. She spoke of its legalism, how her parents would not allow her to watch television or go anywhere or "do anything," how she hated it and couldn't wait for it to be over so she wouldn't be so "bored" anymore. Well, as a messianic believer, these words truly stuck with me because I will raise my children to observe the Sabbath as well, and I truly hope their experience is much different than this young woman expressed. On another occasion, while working in a Judaica store, I had a discussion with the owner also about Shabbat (and Holy Day)-keeping in a Jewish home. He wisely noted that in homes where the Shabbat and Holy Days were about fun and time with family, the children usually grow up to carry on those traditions. However, if they are about rules and obligation, then the children might not continue the traditions. What these two stories have in common is that Shabbat celebrations are lacking if there is no JOY in the home that is celebrating. In fact, we are commanded and urged to "delight in the Shabbat" (Isaiah 58:13-14 for instance). As I wrote in an earlier post, Shabbat should be a day that is joyously anticipated, not dreaded. Spend time with family, sing special songs, do special activities, read together, etc. Shabbat should not be a 'boring' day for children, and it shouldn't be boring for us adults either (although I am guilty of feeling this way at times).

We saw kids do this on Shalom Sesame, and they love it!

The key word here, especially in regards to children, is special.

  Children, even as young as mine, can ascertain that Shabbat is special if we talk about it that way and make it feel that way for them. For example, my children know it's a special time when I invite them to help me make challah (egg bread) on (some) Fridays,
or open up their "Shabbat Treasure Box" (which has now been upgraded to an actual wooden chest) on Friday afternoons and then put it away on Saturday night. There is a cute book out called "The Shabbat Box," which we should really read! From the book, someone has put instructions for making your own box here.

our first Shabbat book and Torah


As of right now, their Shabbat box contains their wooden kid-friendly Shabbat set which they love, a scarf for my daughter to cover her head while she blesses and "lights" the candles, a plastic tablecloth for them to set their own shabbat table, some shabbat books, and a few little toys and games (and sometimes I will place a new one in as a Shabbat gift). Although my daughter has almost outgrown the wooden set (and would rather use something more realistic), my son's little face never fails to light up when he sees me taking the set out of the chest. As they grow,  the Shabbat Box will grow and its contents will change, but it's a tradition that I will continue. I anticipate having some kind of special games (my husband and I love Bible trivia games, so perhaps we'll put one in for us!) that teach Scripture or Biblical values. We could also have special Shabbat crafts. I have made one easy game for matching the day of creation to what was created, but I will post other games as I make them. 

homemade game

There are websites with Shabbat fun for children as well. I enjoy, which has a printable Shabbat activity pack, which I printed out and placed inside sheet

 protectors so we can use dry-erase markers, and then wipe them off and use again next week. (I do that for a lot of worksheets that I print out now!) This packet is now in our Shabbat box, so it's a fun thing for them to do on Friday or Shabbat afternoon. Although we do not follow the halacha that doesn't allow people/children to "create" anything on Shabbat (i.e. no writing, drawing, playing music, etc.), if you do keep that halacha, then these activities would be great on Friday mornings/afternoons to give kids something to do while you are preparing for Shabbat.  Here are some other links for making Shabbat special for kids:

Torah Resource has a bunch of children's lessons here (including one on Shabbat.)

First Fruits of Zion has kids' (all ages) coloring pages & worksheets
when you sign up for their free online membership. Making Shabbat Fun For Kids also has weekly Parashah coloring pages that we have used.

J Gateways website has printable Shabbat blessing cards, color matching and file folder games here 

Simple Hebew Shabbat Song on YouTube or you can watch it on this website, which also has the translation.   

Aklah has some Shabbat resources here

Nice Shabbat coloring page that can used as a place mat here.

Teachers Pay Teachers has some Shabbat educational resources that can be purchased. 

Another way we make Shabbat special is by playing some Shabbat 
music on Fridays. If your children are allowed to play instruments, then get them out and let them play along! My favorite is the original OyBaby CD, and they also have a DVD for babies and toddlers. (This link has a video with some short samples of the music.) This looks like a cute Shabbat CD for toddlers. If you use the Pandora music app, you can search for a Shabbat channel there. We also love the Shalom Sesame videos, and the Shabbat one is probably our favorite. also has educator's guides, printables, video clips, and games as well. Your local library may have the DVDs available to check out for free. 

We also have some Shabbat and/or Jewish books that only come out once a week. I found this online list of some great books about Shabbat here. If you haven't heard of it, there is a program you can sign up for in many areas called PJ Library which sends young children free Jewish books every month. We love it, and have recently signed up for it again. Most of our Shabbat books have come from them!

The possibilities are endless, and as the children get older, I'm confident that they will have their own creative ideas of activities to do in honor of Shabbat, too. 

Shabbat is a day for doing good, so if there is a need in the community, children can be taken along to help out as well. Since Shabbat occurred after the creation of the world, it's a great time to go outside for a picnic, some fresh air, exploring the clouds, a nature walk, or a trip to the park to enjoy His creation as much as He did on Shabbat. I have written elsewhere about tzedakah (referring to charity, but it literally means "justice"), but Shabbat would be as good a time as any to discuss "tzedakah projects" and how children can make a difference by giving of themselves... their time, treasure, and talents.

Shabbat, as a day filled with rest (physical, spiritual, emotional), creative learning, and good deeds (and not with sports, television, shopping, video games, etc.), would certainly give a child (and family) much to look forward to. By all means, don't hire a babysitter, attempt to tie a kid to a chair, force them to take a nap, or stifle their creativity or energy in the guise of "keeping Shabbat." The L-rd of Shabbat is the One who gave them that energy and creativity, and remember that the Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat. (Mark 2:27) Shabbat should be a delight, especially for children. Of course, they will no doubt at times exert their wills and choose to fill the Shabbat with what they want to do, but because Shabbat is a day like no other, we parents have to enforce special boundaries as well, like not allowing them to watch television or play video games all day, and deciding whether or not they should participate in a sport that has practice on Shabbat, etc.

On Shabbat, many families attend a congregational service on Friday night or on Saturday, but there should also be special at-home activities the children enjoy. Whether it's singing songs as a family, reading a special book, or allowing them to eat popcorn or candy, they will come to understand that Shabbat is a special day, not because it's special to them (like a birthday), but because it's special to G-d. It's never too early (or too late) to begin teaching them about Shabbat. We must try our best to make them understand that, while Shabbat benefits us tremendously, it is not about us. It's a day to rest and enjoy G-d's presence and rejoice with Him for His beautiful creation. 

May your Shabbat... with children... be blessed!

*moms, PLEASE post comments/ideas on how you keep Shabbat with kids!

Friday, February 14, 2014

~A Floridian's Ode to Winter~

Spending the majority of my life in South Florida, I didn't grow up with "winter." There were very few, if any, days with freezing temperatures (though I thought so then), no "snow days" in school, and I don't think I saw any snow at all until around age 7 (and that was in Alabama!) Blinding sunshine and humidity were in abundance, and I lived a ten minutes' drive from the beach. As any Floridian will tell you, we experience maybe two seasons... HOT and HOTTER! This is my fifth February living in Brooklyn, and I have come to realize that maybe (just maybe) winter has its place among the beautiful things that G-d has created. Today I composed my ode to winter, and it will probably be the only one I will ever write...

"I Never"

They say snow falling is silent.
But it's not just any silence
(yes, I really wrote this in pen. at 6am.)
it's a beautiful kind of silence,
like being in the bedroom where your children are sleeping,
like the sound of this pen gliding over the paper at 6am,
where there's always the chance you'll hear something,
a small sigh, a faint breath, a sign of life,
That's what snow falling sounds like,
like G-d is whispering.

I never truly appreciated the color of things,
buildings, landscapes, trees...
until I saw them whited out with snow.

Yes, the days are shorter but the nights are brighter...
It's as if the sun never fully goes down.
The immense whiteness overcomes the darkness,
reflecting every ounce of moonlight, starlight, any light,
giving the night a perpetual glow until dawn.

To see a tree's leaves transform from green into colors 
(leaf we saved from the Fall)
I never knew a leaf could possess,
reds, yellows, golds...
Palm trees always wear the same outfits.
I never appreciated a tree's clothing
until I saw one naked,
swaying in the howling wind like a skeleton,
emaciated yet alive,
bare but hopeful.

Perhaps, like me, anxious for Spring.

The city in winter is clad in the dullest browns and grays available,
even the evergreen ceases to be green 
when the sun ceases to shine.
The sky seems to wear gray like an old,
comfortable coat that it doesn't like to take off.

(taken by lyndsi v.)

The people wear black.
Perhaps to provide the greatest contrast with the great White,
perhaps to add to the solemnity of winter
as black does for a funeral procession.

I too wear black.

(taken by lyndsi v.)
I've never walked through something so strange...
like thick, wet sand, 
only thicker
and more wet.
The snow crunches and slushes under your feet,
tickling your ears as it freezes them.

I never experienced such wind power,
except what the Atlantic whipped up onto the beach,
or in the Eye of a hurricane...
I'm grateful for this wind,
like a giant street sweeper,
making the cold unbearable while cleansing the air.

I've never experienced all four seasons
until now.
that each one has a look, a feel, a smell, a sound...
even a taste.
They come and go like the tide,
short, temporary, but life changing.

Spring sings.
Summer sighs.
Fall howls.
Winter whispers.

They are, indeed, life,
and how G-d chooses to speak,
so I suppose I can endure winter
for a few more weeks...

(reminds me of Florida...kind of.)