Monday, March 5, 2012

Jewish Feng Shui (Rhymes with Oy Vey!)

Rabbi Samuels with members of the class at Temple Beth Elohim

Benjamin Samuels of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Newton is not only a long-time Parenting Through a Jewish Lens instructor, he is also one of the co-curriculum designers.
On the Wednesday morning following our Winter Break and the New Year, eleven members of our Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class of twenty-two, showed up at our usual time at Temple Beth Elohim of Wellesley. Fifty percent attendance turned out to be an amazing showing considering that Wednesday was not scheduled as a meeting day! Luckily, I too did not check my calendar, and I also came eager to study and schmooz about Jewish parenting. The Temple was phenomenal and secured our regular meeting space for us. Since we were a smaller group than usual, we decided to sit more informally in a circle in the available cushioned chairs. A large bin of toys arrived shortly thereafter, and given that we had no pre-arranged child-care, we invited those parents who had brought their children to have them play in the center. While I value every member of our class and regretted that we were missing half of our participants, as an instructor, I looked on our impromptu group of parents enthusiastic about their children’s Jewish upbringing with a teacher’s pride.

Not wanting to continue on with our regular curriculum absent full attendance, I decided to lead a conversation about what I like to call “The Architecture of a Jewish Home,” or in more heimish (homey) terms, “Jewish Feng Shui.” What I was inviting within our group was a conversation about how we utilize within our homes form and flow, i.e., Jewish symbols and behavioral patterns in space and time, to create an environment that orients and nurtures our family’s Jewish values and identity. 

Here are some of the ideas that emerged from our discussion:
  • Jewish Symbols: A mezuzah on our doorways; proudly displaying Judaica, like Shabbat candle sticks, Kiddush cups, Havdalah sets, Seder plate, Shofar, in our dining room breakfront or on the credenza; artwork with Jewish themes or images of Israel; a Tzedakah box in our children’s room; the PTJL Sh’ma Card next to our child’s bed.
  • Jewish Time: Finding family-friendly ways to celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holy days within our homes, like lighting Shabbat candles and sharing a family dinner together. Morning and bedtime rituals including Jewish story-telling and singing the Sh’ma. Putting coins in the family tzedakah box at regular intervals and fixed times.
  • Jewish Space: Inviting family and friends into our homes to share Jewish rituals, observances and especially Shabbat and holiday meals. Joining a Temple-sponsored chavurah and being part of the rotation for hosting the group. Using Hebrew and Jewish words for items, foods and activities in our homes.
There were so many great ideas that people shared about their current practices, as well as innovations that they would like to try out. Upon group reflection, we affirmed that Jewish symbols and space do indeed create a home environment of Jewish form and flow. Jewish Feng Shui is interior decorating for our family’s inner world and identity, or better yet, it’s parenting our children and building our homes through a Jewish lens.

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