The Jewish holidays are an important element of establishing a basic Jewish identity and understanding for your kids. They (and you) might relate to the religious component, or the family traditions, or the food. Whatever that connection is, the important thing is that there is one. Jews are hard wired to pass lessons and traditions down from generation to generation. If a holiday tradition was a staple in your household, you may be grappling with how to get these traditions to become just as familiar and comforting to your children as they are for you. But, not everyone grew up in an observant home. You may have the desire to include Jewish holidays and traditions in your home but lack the know-how.
Discussing the religious components of the Jewish holidays is a book unto itself. There’s knowing the major holidays, understand what they represent in the Jewish calendar and their biblical significance, understanding the rabbinical interpretations and the laws around each of these holidays, discussing the denominational differences of how they’re observed and more. Instead, I’ll cover 3 areas that are common to every Jewish holiday and can be focused on even if you haven’t a clue about the rest: food, tradition and symbols and family. They’re bound more to traditions and an easy first step into acknowledging these holidays in your home and teaching your kids about them.
Traditional Jewish dishes for different holidays
It’s no secret that pretty much every Jewish tradition and holiday revolves around some sort of food consumption. Jewish tradition does not exist without the somewhat bland yet oh so delicious foods that accompany it. Make your children associate these wonderful tastes with a holiday they love and look forward to it year after year. Maybe even help them learn about other Jewish cultures by introducing foods popular in other countries or in other families of different Jewish backgrounds. Exposing your kids to Jewish foods is a fun and educational way to connect them to the different Jewish holidays. Perhaps you have recipes that have been passed down in your family for generations. If you do, you’re among the lucky because they’re usually the most delicious. But if you don’t, don’t worry. The internet has a collection of every recipe under the sun. You can search the New York Times for that perfect Hamentashen or Kneidalach soup recipe, or you can take one from one of the smaller blogs – people are surprisingly willing to share their family secret recipes. Take it and make it yours!
Here are 3 major Jewish holidays and the corresponding dish that you can start with. For a more comprehensive list, check out Jewish foods your kids need to know and love.
Apples are a classic symbol of this important Jewish Holiday. Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish New Year and is a time when we are judged for our good deeds and written in the book of life. There is much symbolism around this wonderful holiday. Apples are round and sweet. Especially sweet when dipped in honey. As Jews, we eat apples and honey to express our hope for a sweet year ahead. The apple also symbolizes the Garden of Eden and the fruit from the tree of life.
Kneidals (better known as Matzah Balls) are served inside chicken soup as part of the traditional Ashkenazi Passover tradition. During Passover, Jews forego the wheat grain (amongst others depending on your traditions) and consume only Matzah – a flat bread made from flour and water – to pay homage to the Jews that fled Egypt with little or no time to let their bread rise. Matzah Balls are made from the crumbs of the matzah, matzah meal, and vary depending on personal traditions.
The dish became a popular reference to the story of the Maccabis that rose up to save the Jewish people from oppression and reclaim the 2nd Temple. With all the oil left impure by the Greeks, the Maccabis were able to salvage but a drop that had been overlooked which they then used to ignite the sacred light. Although the drop was just enough to last for one day it did in fact last for 8 days, allowing enough time to collect and purify more oil - and so the miracle of Hannukah was born. And thus, we plump up eating nothing but foods fried in oil to commemorate this miracle.
Traditions and symbols
Each Jewish holiday has its unique traditions and set of laws and restrictions. Whether you gravitate more towards a loose interpretation of the laws, like to abide by them strictly a few times a year, or want to simply introduce some tradition into your household to help your kids connect and create memories around the holidays, there is much you can do to get them involved in the process. Before your next Passover Seder, ask your kids to use the powers of the internet and find the pages of the Hagada online and print them out. They can then decorate them and have unique and personalized hagadas for your family and your guests.
A lesser known fact is that in addition to the Passover Seder, there are 2 other Seders to be had in the Jewish religion. Rosh Hashana and Tu B’shvat are both holidays complete with a Seder plate! Rosh Hashana’s seder plate is all about saying blessings over different foods that represent wishes for us and for the Jewish people for the new year. Rather than just setting a beautiful table, teach your kids about this nice tradition. The Tu B’shvat seder plate is all about displaying the different elements of the harvest and learning about the meaning behind them. Ask your kids to lead these short and fun Seders this year and help them create the Seder plate with the help of online instructions and read the blessings.
Pinterest should be your go to platform for picture inspiration. Building a Sukkah this year? You can get ideas for the best ways to decorate it. Have your kids look for their favorite Sukkah decorations, make a Pinterest inspiration board and get decorating! Want to set the most beautiful Rosh Hashana table that will rival Martha Stewart? Make an inspiration board for that too. You can use the major symbols of the Jewish holidays as means for teaching your kids about these holidays and making family traditions that they will cherish.
Like food, there is no such thing as a Jewish holiday without family. Judaism stresses the importance of family relationships and ensures that there is plenty of family time together. From Friday night Shabbat dinners to the requisite Passover Seder, there is always an excuse for getting together (and eating).
Some of us enjoy every moment with our family. Some of us can take it in doses. And some of us want to pull our hair out the second the annoying second aunt walks through the door. But this familial bonding time is important. It teaches your kids a few important lessons.
Lesson 1: Creating ties with your family is important
Maintaining them and making an effort to spend time together is just as important. It will be a lesson worth teaching as your kids grow older and make friends, get jobs, go off to college and have a life of their own. Family time comes first and the holidays is an excellent building block for this important lesson.
Lesson 2: Being a mensch means being inclusive
Part of developing a sensitive child with a moral compass is teaching him or her the importance of including and not excluding. It’s part of learning to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The Jewish holidays is a perfect time to teach that lesson. You invite the family members that you love spending time with and even the ones you tolerate less. You might even invite people that don’t have a family to spend the holidays with to a meal at your home. It’s a lesson that your kids will carry forward in school, college and even when they build and create their own home and family.
There is a lot to teach your kids about the Jewish holidays. While the laws and religious aspects of these holidays are certainly important (to some of us more than to others), there are many lessons and traditions that you can teach your children even without a deep religious understanding. Pick one and just get started. It will enrich your family and the holidays you celebrate together.
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