6 Life Hacks to Strengthen Your Kids’ Jewish Identity
Easy ways to create a more Jewish atmosphere in our home.
Here are six quick and simple steps we can take to help create a more Jewish atmosphere in our home.
Put Jewish books on your bookshelves – even if you don’t read them right away.
Being surrounded by books has a powerful psychological effect on us, and this is true even if we don’t take the time to actually read them. That was the surprising conclusion by researchers led by Dr. Joanna Sikora of Australian National University in Canberra. Children who grew up surrounded by books in their family home achieved notably greater academic success as adults. The researchers concluded that growing up in a book-filled home led people who never went to college to “become as literate, numerate and technologically apt in adulthood as university graduates who grew up with only a few books.”
The number of books needed to achieve this effect varied but was generally found in homes with a few dozen books. Books send a message to our kids that we value reading and education. When it comes to Jewish learning, having Jewish-themed books present on our bookshelves indicates that we as a family value Jewish learning. (Of course, actually opening those books and learning from them will make an even greater impact, but one step at a time!)
Making sure that you have plenty of Jewish-themed books on hand also increases the odds that you and your kids will pick one up on a rainy day.
Display your Judaica
Take out your Passover seder plate and display it; dust off your Hanukkah menorah and put it somewhere everyone can see. If you have a shofar or tzedakah box or Shabbat candlesticks, display them too. That’s the message of Dr. Neta Peleg-Oren, a psychotherapist in Aventura, Florida, who advises families on how to convey a sense of Jewish identity and commitment to their children.
She shared with Aish.com her key insight that displaying Judaica can have a powerful impact on kids: “Children learn and gain knowledge through experiences with their senses. Having Jewish symbols constantly out on display in a common area, such as Shabbat candles, Shabbat kiddush cup, or the Hanukkah menorah, can strengthen the Jewish identity within the home. By seeing these items on a daily basis, the symbols and themes of the Jewish identity become a continuous part of the children’s lives.”
“Food is central to our sense of identity,” observes University of California, Berkeley, Professor Claude Fischer. The foods we eat inform our “sense of collective belonging” to a culture and group of people.
Jewish food can be a powerful – and easy – place to start strengthening your children's Jewish identity. Incorporating even just a few Jewish foods into our family’s weekly meals can help send the message that we belong to a wider Jewish group. Chicken soup with matzah balls, challah, even lox and bagels – these foods have been associated with Jewish cooks for generations. Consider making them – and some other favorites from your family’s own history – a regular part of your diet today.
Say the Shema
The Shema prayer, the Jewish declaration of faith in one God, is traditionally said at least twice a day – every morning and every evening – and is the last prayer that Jews try to recite on this earth.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, travelled through Europe looking for Jewish children who’d been hidden in Christian orphanages and monasteries by priests and nuns. The children, raised as Christians for years, no longer knew they were Jewish. Rabbi Silver would look at the children and recite Shema Yisroel! Jewish children would run up to him sobbing “Mama! Papa!” The words of the Shema reminded them of their parents who’d recited this Jewish prayer with them each evening before bed.
Saying Shema before bed with your kids only takes a moment, and it helps connect them with generations of Jews who came before, reminding them that we are all links in the timeless chain of Jewish continuity.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel – The Lord Our God, The Lord is One.
Then in an undertone:
Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto L’Olam Va’Ed.
Blessed is the Name of Your Glorious Kingdom Forever.
Make Jewish bedtime stories part of your routine
If your kids are young enough to still read them bedtime stories, consider adding some books with a Jewish flair to your repertoire. The act of snuggling with a parent or other adult and being read to creates powerful, lasting memories. Making sure that some of the stories you read together with your kids have Jewish themes is a great way to create lasting positive memories.
(While there are many wonderful Jewish books suitable for kids, this is a link to order the Jewish bedtime volume that my own kids loved.)
Send your kids to Jewish Summer Camp
One recent study found that attending a Jewish overnight camp increases the likelihood that campers will be Jewishly identified as adults. In some cases, this increase was dramatic: adults who’d attended a Jewish overnight camp were 55% more likely to be Jewishly active than their peers who hadn’t gone to Jewish camp.
Incorporating these hacks are one way to bring greater Jewish feeling into our homes. Try some of them out today and share your experiences in the comments section below.