By no plan of our own, our Jewish family took a different Shabbat journey. We went from being Shabbat participants with limited understanding of this sacred day to becoming encouraging facilitators that could expose the fun and joy of Shabbat to young children and their families. And we did it twice in a decade. First, with two children under four years of age in our home, my husband and I decided that we should consider some kind of Jewish learning that would resonate with our youngsters. Limited in resources, we were not yet affiliated with a temple but learned of a family program celebrating the Jewish holidays with songs and crafts. Because it was too late to join, would I be willing to learn the “curriculum” and bring the experience to Jews, interfaith and non-affiliated families alike?
One seminar and 12 families later, our basement was transformed into a construction paper and glitter paradise as we began Hadassah’s Training Wheels/Al Galgalim program. Many full-time working parents looked to this program on Sunday mornings as a real opportunity to be with their children. And though the program was held to support the upcoming holidays and cultural events, it was the celebration of Shabbat – at each and every session – that stays with me today. As part of the program’s morning set up, we arranged the ordinary folding card table into the sincerest Shabbat table around: plastic flowers, a placemat and prayer cards, candlesticks, braided challah, and grape juice, all perfect for us newbies. One child wore the kippah, passed around the tzedekah canister while mom or dad assisted with the lighting of the candles. This was tried and true, no matter how much glue was spilled or how many crayons were broken; when it was time for Shabbat, the room hushed and the quiet contemplation began – just like the real thing. Later on, as a requirement for the Girl Scout Judaic badges, our teen daughter presented Shabbat to Junior Scouts (4th and 5th graders) along with their willing parents. It was the portable Shabbat, a rolling suitcase that was brought to a classroom, filled with paper cups, challah, candlesticks, napkins, and juice. The only difference was instead of being the student, our once pre-schooler, now a scout leader/facilitator, was showing the next generation how special and significant Shabbat can be. It wasn’t in the plan, but our opportunity to lead from example made all of these discussions and exposures to the wonders of Shabbat that much sweeter. And that much longer lasting.
Lauren Lev is a congregant at Temple B’nai Torah of Wantagh, N.Y., where she is an active member of the Rituals Committee. She is a direct marketing/advertising executive working on Long Island, N.Y. and teaches advertising and marketing communications courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology/SUNY and LIU Post. Her story on a Jewish education program impacting her local community appears in “Thin Threads: Real Stories of Hadassah Life Changing Moments,” published July 2012.