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There are more and more projects sprouting up around the country to encourage people to have Sabbath meals or Shabbat experiences with others. In the non-Orthodox world, many people who grew up with Judaism or are exploring it as adults do not have a Shabbat practice and so it takes programs to support this new practice people are willing to take on. In fact, as we make spiritual promises and resolutions for our new Jewish year, one of my personal goals is to make more frequent and regular my own familyâ€™s Shabbat practice.
Why so much emphasis on â€śdoing Shabbat?â€ť Itâ€™s funny because Shabbat is thought to be a cessation of work and adding Shabbat to your routine does take a little planning and organization. However, whatever input is needed, I think the results will feel worthwhile.
Here are my top 5 reasons for why itâ€™s so important to have Shabbat in our lives:
1. Rest: Shabbat is a Hebrew word that comes from the words for rest, sit and pause. This is an ancient nugget of wisdom which is timeless. If we never get off the merry-go-round we get dizzier and dizzier. Itâ€™s fun for awhile when weâ€™re whirling and twirling and building speed and laughing and getting things done, but eventually we need to slow it down and gain equilibrium and perspective. Pausing on Friday evening or marking a time apart on Saturday can do this for us.
2. Beauty: We need beauty and poetry in our lives. Sometimes the school/work week seems to make us as efficient, robotic, programmed and structured as possible. These qualities are needed to keep schedules intact and to get everything done, like homework and people to where they are supposed to be. Hopefully, the school day or work day does have moments of creativity, new experiences, closeness, nuance, fun, learning and more which is beautiful, but the week as a whole can feel bland and monotonous. Shabbat is beautiful. The glow of the candles is mesmerizing. Communal prayer can be uplifting. The adorned ritual items like a Kiddush cup or challah cover bring art to the table.
3. Perspective: Itâ€™s one thing to say that we should not sweat the small stuff but when so many small things pile up it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. When the car breaks down and you forgot to pack your childâ€™s lunch and your child is having problems with friends at school and you are not seeing eye-to-eye with your co-worker and you need to make the second trip to the pediatrician that week because the first child got strep and now the next oneâ€™s ear hurts and you are sleep deprived, and, and, and, (and sometimes there are big, chronic things we are dealing with) itâ€™s easier said than done to keep perspective.
Shabbat doesnâ€™t take away our troubles. Shabbat doesnâ€™t make the woes of our week go away. But it provides us a respite. Even if your respite is only thirty minutes on Friday evening over dinner when the mood feels different and the rituals and prayers usher in a connection to the Sacred, it helps. This time, however brief, takes you out of your own little bubble and brings you a taste of paradise, of perfection. And if we can store up this feeling, this mood, these images, it sweetens the difficulties we endure. And the messages about creation that are woven through a Jewish Sabbath remind us to help create the world we want to live in.
4. Gateway: There is an idea in Judaism that one mitzvah (commandment: often thought of as ethical and ritual living) leads to another. One mitzvah may encourage us or inspire us to learn about and try out another. The more one observes, the more connected one can be to Judaism, to the People, history and culture. I donâ€™t think more is â€śbetterâ€ť and that there is an ideal way to practice oneâ€™s Judaism. However, I do feel that observing Shabbat reminds us of the rubric Judaism provides throughout the whole week to add order, purpose, social justice and awareness to our lives. If we love taking time to observe a Sabbath, then we may also be inclined to wake up each morning listening to Modeh Ani, a prayer exclaiming oneâ€™s gratitude for the new day. If we live by the rhythm of the Jewish week and usher in some time of observing Shabbat, we may be inclined to observe Jewish holidays and to see how the sonar-lunar calendar connects us with nature and with history and narratives in powerful ways.
5. Intimacy: Maybe itâ€™s because we are tied to our phones, but many of us crave a time when it feels safe to put the phone away for a minute. We use our phones as distractions, as entertainment, as sources of information, as ways to stay connected and as a safety net for knowing what is happening all the time. I for one like to be able to be reached almost all the time. But, I also love having a moment when I donâ€™t need to hold my phone. For me, that moment is Friday night Shabbat.
The way our Friday nights shake down is that our Sabbath consists of the three main prayersâ€”it doesnâ€™t, incidentally, involve dinner most weeks. This is because my kids usually eat early and my husband is a congregational rabbi. He is often preparing for his services and may grab dinner somewhere before he comes home. Also, we are not foodies. I am not a good cook and I donâ€™t enjoy it. I am working all day on Friday and itâ€™s hard for me to get the family dinner piece together with our schedules. See, I sometimes feel a bit defensive about not basing our Sabbath on the Friday night family/friend dinner.
What we do is we light candles, we say Kiddush (Hebrew word meaning holy referring to the prayer over the fruit of the vine; often wine or grape juice), we eat challah and my favorite part is when we bless our children and each other. I take my kidâ€™s head in my hands and I whisper to them my prayer for them. It is specific and spontaneous. I also say Aaronâ€™s blessing to them. The traditional prayer said to sons and daughters is too gender-binary for my family (this is the topic of another blog).Â I look at my partner and we soak each other in, what we have, what we hope for; we breathe. We kiss. We hug each other. It is intimate. When we have friends over, we bless one another with our words and we feel each otherâ€™s actual presence. When you are alone on Shabbat, this last piece especially, may feel sad or distant. It is not good to be alone on Shabbat. This is why Jewish organizations are working hard and putting resources into creating opportunities for people to find one another over Shabbat.
There are many more reasons to do something to mark the Sabbath each week. Among your Jewish New Yearâ€™s resolutions, will adding or creating a Shabbat ritual be among them? If you are not Jewish but you love someone who is Jewish, how does this all feel for you? Let us know what you are thinking about doing or what you already do. When we hear from one another, we get ideas for what we might want to try. Hereâ€™s to opening this ancient gift and making it come alive in ways that work for you.
Passover is one of the most widely celebrated Jewish holidays and many Jewish families have some type of Passover seder, but preparing to host a seder can be intimidating. This is true whether or not you grew up Jewishâ€”and, as I can personally attest, even if youâ€™re a rabbi!
Seder means â€śorderâ€ť in Hebrew, and there is a set order for how the seder is to proceed, set forth in the haggadah. As an avid haggadah collector, I can tell you that there are LOTS of different haggadot to choose fromâ€”or you may put one together yourself. But even once youâ€™ve selected a haggadah, if you have kids coming to your seder thereâ€™s the added pressure of wanting them to be engaged throughout the evening.
Here are some things that have worked for me in the past:
MAD LIBS, COLORING PAGES, ETC.: One year, when the kids arrived at my seder, I gave them a Passover Mad Libs game.Â Playing Mad Libs is a great way to keep kids busy before the seder starts (especially if you donâ€™t want them running all over your house!) or after they have eaten their mealâ€”which we all know takes kids a lot less time than it takes adults. If there are kids who are too young for Mad Libs, you can give them Passover coloring pages and crayons to keep them occupiedÂ (Google â€śPassover Coloring Pagesâ€ť and youâ€™ll find lots of pages you can print for free)Â or if you happen to be using a digital haggadah, like this one from JewishBoston.com, the younger set can enjoy this fun onlineÂ seder matching game. Coloring in their own Passover placemats (which you can buy in many grocery stores, Judaica shops or onlineâ€”or make your own) kept my kids happy and quiet during seders when they were little, as did kidsâ€™ haggadot that they could color in.
PASSOVER GRANOLA: Several years ago, I attended a pre-Passover workshop led by Noam Zion, one of the authors of A Different Night, The Family Participation Haggadah. Zion suggested that when the seder begins, the host should give each guest a bag of granola, which they can nosh on so they wonâ€™t be hungry and anxious for the meal, and thus will be more engaged during the pre-meal part of the seder, which is the majority of the haggadah. So when we all sat down, I gave everyone, adults as well as children, a bag filled with raisins, nuts, and Kosher for Passover chocolate chips and marshmallows. I explained that just as our Israelite ancestors went on a long journey after leaving Egypt, we too would have a â€śjourneyâ€ť before we began our meal, and the bag was filled with some food to keep us nourished along the way. (I also promised my guests that our journey would be a lot shorter than 40 years!). Another fun thing about the Passover granola was that my daughter, who was four at the time, had a great time preparing all of the bags with me before our guests arrived.
BINGO: One of the biggest hits was when I used a website to make a Passover Bingo game for my younger guests. The squares on the Bingo game had phrases such as: â€śI recited the four questions,â€ť â€śI drank the second cup of wine/juice,â€ť â€śI asked a questionâ€ť and â€śI tasted maror.â€ť I gave each kid a small cup of raisins, and told them to put a raisin on a square once they had done what was written in the square. This kept the kids engaged throughout the eveningâ€”nobody wanted to miss doing something and not be able to fill in that square on their card. I recently found a similar Passover Bingo game online here.
QUESTIONS! QUESTIONS! AND MORE QUESTIONS!: Any good seder involves a lot more than just the Four Questions in the haggadah. Originally, the items on the seder plate and many of the Passover rituals were meant to spark questions. Your seder wonâ€™t be nearly as rewarding if you just read through the haggadah without taking time for questions and discussion. Here are some fun ways to incorporate questions into your seder:
Ask lots of questions: Before the seder, go to a Dollar Store or party store and buy a bunch of cheap little toys to use as prizes. Throughout the seder, stop to ask questions about the story and celebration of Passover. Whoever answers the question correctly gets a prize. Youâ€™ll probably find that the adults like to play along and show off their knowledge as much as the kids do. Or better yetâ€¦
Have your guests ask the questions: Encourage questioning by giving out a prize every time someone asks a question. Then let someone else answer the questionâ€”and they can get a prize too.
Put questions under everyone’s plates: One year I put an index card with a Passover-related question on it under each plate before everyone arrived at my seder. Some of the questions were serious (e.g., â€śIf you could invite anyone to a seder, who would it be and why?â€ť) while others were more light-hearted (e.g., â€śIf you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, would you rather it be matzah or bitter herbs?â€ť). At different points throughout the seder, I would randomly pick a person and ask them to take the index card out from under their plate (no peeking at the card until youâ€™re called on!), read their question and answer it.
Advanced planning is key to a successful seder. But that being said, once your planning is finished and your guests arrive, do your best to relax and enjoy!
Are there things youâ€™ve done at a seder in the past that have been fun for kids and kept them engaged? What are you planning for this year?Â