Two weeks ago, I watched my 6-year-old daughter run around the lawn of our temple, celebrating the end of the religious school year. The kids left the picnic with face paint and dirty knees, my daughter hugging her friends goodbye. As we got into the car, it struck me that summer was possibly going to be something of a Jewish dry season for her. Living in Northern Virginia, we are one of a few Jewish families in our neighborhood—my daughter doesn’t interact with other Jewish children on a daily basis.
Religious school is undoubtedly our strongest bond to our temple community—it forces us (in a good way!) to be involved, to be present, and to strengthen our own Jewish identity as a family.
Without that weekly push, I realized that if I wanted my daughter to continue building her Jewish identity this summer, I needed to make doing so a priority. But whatever your affiliation during the year, it’s not that hard to integrate a little Jewish learning, in a fun way, over the summer.
Here are five subtle ways that I plan to continue Jewish identity-building and learning during the hot days and nights to come.
1. Summer-ize Shabbat
We try to celebrate Shabbat weekly, but I admit that sometimes, we miss it. This summer, I plan to celebrate Shabbat regularly, with a summery twist. Say kiddush over grape ice-pops. Light the candles outside, among the fireflies. Celebrate the fact that the sun sets late, and spend those extra minutes together as a family—and unplugged.
2. Chat About Jewish Values
If you’re slick enough, you can weave discussion of Jewish values into everyday events. Make a meal for a neighbor and discuss the Jewish value of community. Have a picnic at a local park, and talk about our responsibility to keep our earth beautiful. Wave bubble wands, and express gratitude for small but beautiful miracles.
3. Read Books with Jewish Characters
Now that she’s in elementary school, my daughter is less interested in the many books we have that center around Jewish holidays. Fair enough. I’ve been on a quest to find books for young readers that center around Jewish characters without being didactic. The good news? There are some great books that fit the bill, from the recently written (the “Lola Levine” series, “My Basmati Basmati Bat Mitzvah“) to the classic (“About the B’nai Bagels,” the “All-of-a-Kind Family” series).
4. Do Good Deeds.
Mitzvot, or good deeds, are a cornerstone of Judaism, and there are so many that children can do. They don’t need to be big, planned-out volunteer events. They can be as simple as weeding a garden, helping a younger sibling build a Lego set, making a card for a sick relative. I’m hoping to reserve a special time each day or week (such as Shabbat) to talk about the mitzvot we’ve done. As a parent, you can even brainstorm some you’d like to do, modeling your thought process.
5. Learn and Practice New Prayers–Or Create Your Own
The slow days of summer often birth firsts—a first bike ride, a first fish caught, a first day alone at Star Wars camp. Pause and mark those firsts with the Shehechiyanu, the prayer of praise for something new. Try marking other occasions with prayers if you don’t already. Say borei minei mezonot before stuffing a gooey (kosher or not) marshmallow or savory grilled treat into your mouth. Whisper the shema at bedtime. Say improvised prayers more often, and model them for your children, together enjoying the joy and blessing of a Jewish life.