By Laura Seymour
Many who read “The Shabbat Lady” tell me that they have learned much about Judaism and Jewish practice from a practical perspective. The challenge is to integrate our Jewish knowledge and practice with our parenting. We are not Jewish only on Shabbat or holidays or at the synagogue — our Jewish self pervades all parts of our life.
A new book for all parents happens to be written by Jewish author Miriam Weinstein. “The Surprising Power of Family Meals — How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier” is filled with studies and stories of how eating together makes a difference.
“It shows how eating ordinary, average everyday supper with your family is strongly linked to lower incidence of bad outcomes such as teenage drug and alcohol use, and to good qualities like emotional stability. It correlates with kindergarteners being better prepared to learn to read. Regular family supper helps keep asthmatic kids out of hospitals. It discourages both obesity and eating disorders. It supports your staying more connected to your extended family, your ethnic heritage, your community of faith. It will help children and families to be more resilient, reacting positively to those curves and arrows that life throws our way.”
So what do we take from this into our Jewish homes? We have the perfect model with Shabbat dinner — it has wonderful rituals and it is an evening without rush. However, one night a week may be a great start but it is not enough. Dinner together must be a regular thing for the magic to work and it is easy to put the “Jewish layer” on top of the time together in order to integrate your Judaism and your parenting.
Weinstein explains the importance of ritual and we have wonderful rituals that can be part of the experiences our children take with them when they leave the dinner table. First, our memories of the foods we eat are the first part of transmitting our culture. We can also add a blessing before and after — blessings are an integral part of Judaism that teach the value of being thankful for all we have. Another part of our Jewish heritage is talk — sharing ideas — arguing points of view — respecting the contribution of every person.
It is never too late or too early to start your family dinner habit. I’m sure your family is busy, so begin by making the food part easy — it is the being together that is important. The next step is creating the method for talk — for many of us it comes easy when we take the time, but a simple technique is to have each family member talk about something that happened that day. Everyone gets a turn and everyone is listened to. Do this and it will make a difference to your children. Give the gift of time to your family!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.