Got Shabbat? Observing the Sabbath With Small Children
If there is one thing I do right in terms of Jewish education for my kids, it’s our weekly Shabbat dinner. It is usually just the four of us—my husband, our two boys (ages 8 and 3), and me—and our celebration tends not to last terribly long because of the boys’ ages, but this weekly ritual is regular, fairly simple, and truly special. Together, we say three blessings, wear kippot, eat challah and “Shabbat potatoes,” and connect with each other face-to-face in ways that we don’t during the rest of the week. It doesn’t feel like anything is missing, but as long as I don’t mess with the dinner menu, it doesn’t hurt to mix things up once in a while!
Enter Got Shabbat, a Torah commentary written by Peter and Ellen Allard for parents and teachers of young children. As an early childhood educator and editor of Got Shabbat, I have some great ideas (if I do say so myself) to share about how to use this resource, but I’m also a parent of young kids, which means I’m part of the audience at whom this resource is directed. The Got Shabbat archives include a full parshiyot library of commentaries, one for each week of the year. Individual parashiyot are categorized by book and are listed in chronological order.
I recently conducted a test-run of Got Shabbat with my own family to see what sort of value it could add to our weekly Shabbat observance. After explaining the experiment to my husband, I printed out the Got Shabbat commentary of last week’s parashah, Eikev, and read it aloud to him aloud while he set the Shabbat table on Friday evening. Of course, it sat on the counter for a couple of days first, calling to both of us to read it ahead of time, but it had to compete with many other calls for attention during the week. We talked about it for a few minutes and figured out that we differ on one question in particular: Is it important to pass the stories of our people on to our kids? I’m an educator, and he’s a journalist, so you can guess on which side of the fence we each fell!
At dinner with our sons, I gave a very brief synopsis of the commentary and a little background information. We talked about who Moses was and reminded the boys that the Torah is a book of stories that are important to Jewish people. With the basics out of the way, we delved into Got Shabbat’s questions for children. It went something like this:
My husband and I asked the boys, “What is your favorite storybook?” Ben, who is eight, named “George Brown, Class Clown: Wet and Wild” (part of a series that includes such fine titles as “Super Burp!” and “Hey! Who Stole the Toilet?”). Oscar, age three, said his favorite is “Corduroy Goes to the Beach.” When we asked why they like these stories so much, Ben asked us to pass the potatoes, and Oscar stared at a passing car.
We followed up with another question: “Do you know any stories about us from when we were little? What are your favorite things to hear about?” Ben said he likes the story of the time I fell off my bike as a child and had to be rushed to the hospital; there was no answer from Oscar, who was focused on getting the beans out of a green bean.
“Do you know any Jewish stories?” we asked the boys. “If you do, what makes those stories different from other ones you know?” When Ben said he doesn’t know any Jewish stories, we reminded him of the holidays our family celebrates and the story of Passover. Oscar asked, “Is baby Moses a grown-up?” to which we responded, “In this story, he is. After he was saved in his basket in the river, he grows up to be a leader of the Jewish people.”
So, how did it go? In my opinion, great! At first glance, it may seem like a bit of a flop: the boys were distracted, they didn’t seem that inspired by the questions, and it was a relatively short discussion. Still, great advances were made. For a few golden moments, all four of us, at different developmental and interest levels, were talking Torah. The Got Shabbat resource took our Shabbat table conversation to a different level. If only for a few moments, there was no talk of Legos or the kinds of gross topics little boys love.
I think this is another tradition we’ll add to the mix – along with the Shabbat potatoes!
Ready to incorporate Got Shabbat into your family’s Shabbat observance? Access the full Got Shabbat Parshiyot Library; all issues are listed in chronological order. Visit the Torah portion schedule page to find out which portion we’re studying this week!