What are your earliest memories of “doing Jewish”? I have a smattering of recollections from when I was 5, 6, and 7, though not much before that. Even from those years, I can only call up bits and pieces: moments, vignettes, colors, flavors. Those snippets, though, wove into a happy childhood tapestry.
Now, as a grandmother, I wonder what our little guys will remember of being Jewish in our home – especially around the High Holidays.
Will they remember parading around to the upbeat, symbolically rich music video "Dip Your Apple" by the Ein Prat Fountainheads? What about making Jewish art to hang on the walls at the start of the new year? Pretending to blow the shofar with Bugles® snack crackers? Tekiah. Shevarim. Teruah.
What activities and fun and spirituality can we add to what they already do at home to enrich their lives? I know we cannot replicate the way I grew up, so we look for different approaches.
By the age of 5, for instance, I was sorting note cards for the Hebrew dictionaries my father, z”l, wrote – first by color (only to discover later that this was not helpful in the least), then by English, then by Hebrew.
When I was 6, we spent four months in Israel living with my sweet Dod Avraham (Uncle Avraham) in Ramat Gan. I remember sitting on a park bench with him, eating clementinot (clementines). To this day, whenever I smell that crisp, citrusy fragrance, I can almost see that park, that bench.
My father, z”l, taught me Hebrew, in short bursts of sweet togetherness after dinner. We’d read a few prayers from the siddur (prayer book), then either a poem or a Dick-and-Jane type story from Elef Milim (A Thousand Words) about life in Israel.
On Rosh HaShanah, I can still hear his voice, in his beautiful Hebrew, reciting the blessing as we dipped the apples into honey: “…shetechadesh aleinu shanah tovah umetukah,” hoping God would grant us a good and sweet year. I always ate as much honey as possible to try to make that hope come true. (Actually, I still do – and we give plenty to everyone at the table!)
I am inspired by these recollections to create memories for our little ones that will make them smile when they grow up.
So what little things can I do? I sprinkle Hebrew and Yiddish into our conversation. I ask their advice when I’m creating Jewish games. I let them choose which challah cover to use on Friday nights. I give each one a little bag of crumbs for Tashlich.
As we create new traditions, we also bring in rituals and food from the “old world.” When we raise our cups for Kiddush, we sing my father’s melody, a tune I have never heard anywhere else. We serve classic Ashkenazi fare, like brisket or baked chicken with potato kugel and simmered carrots.
And we hope that our little ones grow up with happy memories of family gatherings – with laughter and joy in their hearts.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu la’zman hazeh. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.