Not-for-profit-dad and I have a lot in common. We both work in the non-profit field, we both have boy/girl twins, we’re both baseball fans, and we both blog about our kids. I am very grateful that he decided to share his family traditions – particularly how they center around his Jewish faith. If you are not familiar with his blog, please read him. He’s funny and articulate and a must on your blogroll.
There is a weekly tradition we have in our house of observing Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. Now, I would say that the MOWA and I don’t fit into any particular “flavor” of Judaism, but it would be accurate to say that the synagogue that we have not attended for the past year is a conservative synagogue. At different times in our lives we have held different levels of observance — the MOWA used to hang-out at Chabad House and at another time she regularly attended an orthodox Sephardic synagogue. I have at various times been a regular attendee at synagogue and at other times been the guy eating the cheeseburger at the McDonalds in the Tel Aviv bus station. We keep kosher in our house, although I do eat non-kosher meat outside the home, I avoid mixing milk and meat and completely avoid meat that would not be kosher under any circumstance (shellfish, pork, catfish – with the occasional exception of eel at sushi restaurants). The MOWA in-part because she is a vegetarian but more because she’s a better Jew than me, is kosher 24/7/365. We use electricity on shabbat and drive and do other things that distinctly place us in the “other-than-orthodox-camp.” All of that is really just to set-up the unique way we observe Shabbat with the kids every Friday night.
Traditionally, Shabbat begins at sundown. In our house it begins about 15 minutes before the twins’ bathtime. The MOWA lights the two candles and says the prayer, letting Girl Twin know she should be saying it with her as it is traditionally the woman’s job to light the candles. After we light the candles everyone gets a kiss and a greeting of “shabbat shalom.” This is a tradition I grew up with and we make sure that everyone gives everyone a kiss — all the combinations and permutations possible.
Then we say kiddush, the prayer over the wine (in this case grape juice). This is the twins’ favorite part because they know the whole thing ends with them getting to drink grape juice. We use a special “kiddush cup” that the MOWA made at a paint-your-own pottery store, it is very colorful and whenever the kids see the cup they get very excited (which can be a problem at all other non-Shabbat times). The cup is also special to the MOWA and myself because when we were going through infertility we incorporated a ritual into our Shabbat observance that included making a special prayer in-honor of the famously infertile matriarchs of the bible over the same kiddush cup filled with pomegranite juice. Now we use the same cup to make kiddush with our kids every friday night as a reminder of what we overcame and of how blessed we are. At the end of the prayer, the MOWA and I drink from the kiddush cup. Now the kids get their own sippy cups of grape juice, but before they were old enough for that we used to give them grape juice in an eye dropper. It’s great to see how excited they get for the sweet grape juice, which I hope they will always associate with the sweetness of shabbat and the joy of being together with family.
Finally we say the motzi — which is a prayer over the challah bread, although we frequently substitute Cheerios. This is for two reasons. 1) I frequently fail in my task of picking up a challah on Friday afternoon. 2) Challah is made with an egg wash and in their first year of life we avoided exposing the kids to eggs because apparently that increases their odds of escaping food allergies. Since the kids have been able to eat eggs we’ve continued using Cheerios — now it is sort of our tradition and for all intents and purposes and may persist into the future. When we actually do have a challah we all place our hands on it and say the prayer together. With Cheerios it’s a little harder to achieve that effect, so generally we give them the Cheerios and try and say the prayer before they’ve shoved them down their throats.
We finish-up with another round of kisses and shabbat shalom’s and sometimes sing a shabbat song like “Shalom Aleichem” or “Put the Chicken in the Pot.”
Sometimes, when I have to work late on Friday, the MOWA does shabbat with the kids while I’m on speaker-phone. It sucks to miss it, but I’m glad that it is something that happens every week for the kids. What do I hope my children get out of this? That it is a way of marking the end of the week, of taking time for family and setting aside a sacred space in a unique Jewish way. I hope that it instills in them a love of Judaism not because they have no choice (the reality in America is that they do have a choice whether I like it or not), but because they find meaning in the rituals, the traditions and moral code it stands for. Most important I hope it reinforces that Judaism has a place in their life every day and every week — not just three times a year and at Chanukah.
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