Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Talk About Jewish Lens

Since my son was very young, and we were very new parents, we have always had a nightly routine. It has changed somewhat throughout my son’s 2+ years, but always includes a bath, one (or many) books, and some iteration of “cuddle time.” In our family, bedtime is one ritual that is sacred in our lives, when sitting at the kitchen table for meals or snacking on healthy food simply falls through the cracks of our working-parent existence. However, since beginning our Parenting through a Jewish Lens class in October, bedtime has changed.

One of the most important pieces of advice I have gotten as a new parent is that just when you despair that your child will never sleep through the night, will never stop pooping in the tub, or will always throw tantrums when they can’t get what they want, things change. Sometimes these behaviors extinguish themselves, sometimes they demand special focused attention, sometimes they get worse, and sometimes they get better. But the one thing we can count on is that they will change.

Every Sunday morning, we get ourselves dressed and out of the house in order to meet with our knowledgeable teacher and other Jewish parents of young kids for PTJL. When we started this class five weeks ago, we didn’t know what it would be like, what we would learn, or how this learning would influence our development as a Jewish family, but we were open, and interested, and motivated, and we made sure to show up.

During the first class, we talked about morning and evening rituals, and ways that Jewish tradition helps us to ease these very present transitions in the day. One way we talked about is by saying the Shema at bedtime. This is our tradition’s way of easing the transition from wakefulness to sleep, by affirming our belief that we will be protected during the night. When we left this first class, we thought that by saying the Shema at night, it would be an easy way to bring Jewish tradition into our bedtime ritual. Five weeks strong, we are saying the shema every night. My two year old asks to say it when he is ready to “snuggle,” and covers his eyes . During this moment, everything else stops. My husband and I cuddle our son together as we say this prayer. 

At our fifth class, many parents voiced frustration about time spent in houses of prayer: How can we model Jewish engagement for our young children when we spend the time there chasing them around or keeping them from disturbing others? The other night, during bedtime, my son answered this question for me. After the Shema and before going into the crib, my son and I snuggle while he initiates conversations about his day, such as “Talk about the library,” or “Talk about pre-school.” From there I muster up everything I can about what happened that day, and try to engage him in conversation about it, although he usually just wants me to talk. The other night I was shocked when he said, “Talk about Jewish Lens.”

The funny part is that while we learn during PTJL, he goes to babysitting. He is not there to engage in a discussion of Jewish values. WE are. Yet somehow he knows that this matters. Even our very young children know, can understand and internalize our values. So when our son says Shema at night, even though he doesn’t understand what the words mean, he knows it matters. And when we go to services on Saturday mornings, we may not spend a moment praying, but he knows this matters. And when we snuggle together at night, talking about his day, he knows that our time together with him is what matters. Our children are not the only ones learning, growing and changing. We are too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pizza: It's What's For (Shabbat) Dinner!

During this crazy time of the year as we’re caught up with Chanukah and Thanksgiving, it’s easy to forget that we actually get to celebrate a holiday every week: Shabbat! I love that our tradition gives us this weekly opportunity to press the pause button on our hectic lives and encourages us to spend time with our families. For those of us with young children, though, this can seem more daunting than enjoyable. In my work with families, I try to help them see that there are so many things they are already doing from day to day that are Jewish.

One of these family rituals is Shabbat dinner. There is overwhelming evidence showing the benefits of eating together as a family, from better long-term academic performance to improved health for all involved, and most importantly the relationship building that happens when we eat with the people we love, spend time together and talk about what’s really important to us.
            I know that at the end of a busy work week, putting together a nice dinner for your family can seem especially challenging. Many of us have in our minds that Shabbat Dinner = Roast Chicken. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a leisurely chicken dinner, but with 2 working parents, a 1 year old and 3 year old, we don’t always have the time and energy for that. More often than not these days, Friday night dinner at our house is homemade pizza. It’s a great way to use up the leftovers in your fridge, and even if you live with picky eaters, if it’s on a pizza, it seems to be more palatable. Some tips on getting this meal on the table:
  • If I make pasta with tomato sauce earlier in the week, I reserve about half a cup for the pizza.
  • Keep some frozen pizza dough in the fridge, it’s just as easy to double or triple the recipe.
  • Trader Joe’s has some GREAT prepared pizza dough, whole wheat, spinach, etc.
  • Involve our kids in preparing dinner, they can help roll out the dough, place the topping on the pizza, sprinkle the cheese, etc.
  • Whatever leftover veggies you have in your fridge will work great, throw some cheese on top and bake away, don’t over think it!
  • Serve with a simple salad, if you have a salad spinner this is another great way to involve young kids in helping to prepare dinner.

Once you sit down to dinner with your family, make a point to mark this meal as something different, something sacred. By saying the Shabbat blessings over the candles, bread and wine, we have the chance to show that Shabbat is different from the rest of the week, and that the time we have to spend together over the next day is special. I love the tradition of incorporating a blessing over our children into our Shabbat dinner ritual. It doesn’t need to be formal, just a moment to reinforce how much we love them and how important family is.
Sometimes Friday night just won’t work for your family, and that’s OK! Find another time during the week to be together, there’s nothing special about dinner, breakfast works too, or a Saturday lunch. Just making the point to be together is what truly matters.
Here are some of my favorite resources for making Shabbat dinner a little easier for all of us:

The Family Dinner Project- Great information on why it’s so important to eat together. Helpful hints on conversation starters and easy recipes as well.
100 Days of Real Food- Suggestions for meal planning with HEALTHY food. Terrific recipes.
French Food Rules- A fabulous jumping off point for thinking about what’s important when it comes to eating in your family
Real Simple Magazine- A great all around recipe resource, especially this easy to follow month of meals

Sarah Ruderman Wilensky is an experienced Jewish educator and founder of JewFood. She specializes in teaching about Jewish identity, holidays and culture through food, and has worked with every age group, from toddlers and preschoolers to elementary-school students, teens, adults and families. Sarah is a Jewish Educator at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and runs the families with young children program at Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley. She lives in Newton with her husband, two young children and cat, Brisket.