What an abundance of materials there are for parents, about the many facets of raising children. This includes the daily concerns of eating, toileting and sleeping, and even religious upbringing. The advice might reflect the newest trend, might be traditional, might focus on family patterns, or share the latest research. It can be comforting, confusing, and even contradictory.
Regarding religion in family life, it’s often not until a parent becomes a new mom or dad that they seriously give thought to the values that they want to instill in their children. Deciding what to incorporate into one’s home life can be influenced by the proximity and influence of extended family, or a family’s community involvement. Although it might seem daunting at first, small steps with family rituals are the best.
A first step for many families, for instance, might be introducing Shabbat to a family’s weekly routine. This can begin as simply as including a challah at dinner time, when the family comes together for Friday night dinner. As children grow and develop, and parents are more comfortable, Jewish rituals can be expanded. More blessings are shared, a special family time is embraced, and parents instill values that give meaning to their developing children. The family ritual can become a common Jewish thread that is shared with others.
Molded by the cycles of our lives, the repetition of our rituals, and the refining of traditions to the family’s culture, parents create traditions that just might become passed on to the next generation.
This summer I experienced the supreme honor of passing down the Torah to my daughter, who passed it on to her daughter, at my granddaughter’s Bat Mitzvah. This ceremony was similar to both my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and mine, and at the same time, my granddaughter was creating her own legacy. My granddaughter, who is of Jewish, African American and Jamaican ancestry, exemplified how a Jewish tradition can be a reflection of the participant, combined with traditions from the past. Our Jewish rituals can become imbued with the unique influences of each family.
Our connections are multiple, whether through religion, ethnicity or nationality, and it’s up to each of us to teach our children the values that bind us together. Both family and communities, such as schools/congregations, are the sources of learning. It is there that children can participate, explore, and discover the meaning of what we, the Jewish community, hold important. The warm, loving feelings that surround a ritual, the togetherness with others in celebration of a holiday and the expression of beauty in embracing a tradition is the responsibility of all those who care for the next generation.
Whoever teaches her daughter teaches not only her daughter but also her daughter’s daughter—Tand so on to the end of generations—Talmud.
DEBORAH PRUITT IS THE DIRECTOR OF TEMPLE BETH ISRAEL OF POMONA’S PRESCHOOL FOR THE PAST 30 YEARS AND A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO KIDDISH.