I consider myself a dedicated yet anxious Jewish mom. I’m dedicated because I would like my children to have a Jewish upbringing that connects them to our collective stories, history, and values – and I’m anxious because I’m never quite sure whether I’m accomplishing that goal.
Like many progressive Jews, my children’s formal Jewish education takes place at our synagogue, in our case on Sundays. My eldest son recently spent his first of what I hope will be many summers at a Reform Jewish sleepaway camp (shout out to URJ Crane Lake Camp!). More often than not, we spend Friday evening together, marking Shabbat with a family dinner and blessings. Still, I figured the other Jewish holidays warranted some creativity.
Last winter, with Hanukkah fast approaching, I knew I wanted to do more than just decorate our hallway with Hanukkah lights and garlands (already an appropriation from Christmas that does little to actually explain the holiday). I researched holiday crafts, but I have two young boys who don’t like to craft as much as I do. Cooking isn’t their thing, either (unless it involves eating chocolate chips before they go into the bowl), and anyway, I felt that the takeaways from the holidays would be missed if we simply focused on food.
So I threw in the towel and purchased a build-your-own Hanukkah cookie house, presumably produced to compete with the plurality of gingerbread houses on the market. Little did I know that I’d accidentally stumbled upon a new tradition.
Once we made the house, we decided to add a menorah made of Legos, and from there, one thing led to another. Soon, we had created an entire Lego scene of the Hanukkah story, complete with Roman bad guys being hauled away and Maccabees cleaning up the Temple. At that moment, I decided that for the rest of the Jewish year, the boys and I would build Lego scenes for each holiday.
Some were very intricate, like the multi-scene extravaganza we created for Passover. Others were more abstract, like the birthday cake in a forest for Tu BiShvat. The one thing they all had in common, though, is that they came from the minds of my children as they internalized the stories and tried to reimagine them through their Legos. Equally important, for me, is that there were no instruction booklets for these projects; their creativity took over.
Will this method work every year? Probably not – but I hope my children feel closer to the stories of our Jewish histories than in previous years. And I can’t wait to see what the coming year has in store.
Hanukkah: One menorah for each child
Hanukkah: The Maccabees rebuilding and rededicating the Temple
Hanukkah: The carting away of the Syrian ‘bad guys’ (chocolate Maccabee soldiers watching)
Purim: The great feast held by King Ahashverosh where Vashti was commanded to dance for his guests
Purim: More of the great feast and party that was held for several days by Kind Ahashverosh
Tu BiShvat: Happy birthday to the trees!
Passover: Moses’ mother watching over Moses as he is found by Pharoah’s daughter
Passover: Moses parting the Sea of Reeds
Sukkot: Entering the sukkah for a meal
Rosh HaShanah: The story of when Abraham and Sarah welcomed the three strangers to their camp