I have approached almost every parenting issue with the seriousness of a Rhodes scholar. I’ve exhaustively researched baby carriers, sleep training, preschools, and of course, toxic and non-toxic plastics. But I’ve given comparatively little thought to my job as my child’s spiritual teacher. So when I attended parent night at my daughter’s Jewish kindergarten, I was unprepared for my homework assignment–think about what you want to teach your children about God.
Fortunately, my daughter’s teacher also gave me an instruction manual–a pamphlet entitled “Talking to your Children About God,” by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. “Hooray,” I thought, “Rabbi Sasso will tell me what to say!”
Rabbi Sasso’s advice? “Tell your child what you believe.” These instructions were about as helpful as the assembly manuals that accompanied the IKEA kitchen cabinets we installed this summer. (They have no words.) Theologically speaking, I’m fairly clear on what I don’t believe, but have only a hazy notion of what I do kind-of-sort-of-think-I might believe(-ish). How on earth can I teach my children about God?
Luckily, the kind of divine intervention I don’t think I believe in graced me that very week. We received Bagels from Benny in the mail from The PJ Library. In the story by Aubery Davis, a young boy (Benny), wants to thank God for creating the wheat for his grandfather’s delicious bagels. He decides to secretly place a bag of bagels in the Holy Ark each Friday. Each week, unbeknownst to Benny, a poor man finds the bagels and takes them home to eat, believing they are a gift from God. When the little boy discovers the truth, that God hasn’t been taking the bagels, he is crestfallen, until his grandfather explains to him that, in fact, there is no better gift to God than helping a person in need.
After reading the book for the first time, I felt like jumping up and down shouting, “This is it! This is what I believe! This is what I want my children to believe!” God as a source of creation? I’m good with that. Giving thanks for our blessings? I’m definitely in favor of that one. Helping those in need as a way to serve God? Bagels from Benny just knocked it out of the ballpark. And unlike some of the other groovy kids’ God-books we’ve added to our library (Old Turtle comes to mind) this one is Jewish. And, it’s fantastic.
Now that both my children are in Jewish day school, I realize many people are going to contribute to their view of God and religion. I’m likely to agree strongly with some of the messages they hear, and feel very conflicted about others. But thanks to an unexpected homework assignment, and books like Bagels From Benny, I’ll know that I’ve contributed to the conversation.
P.S. Here’s a link to listen to a great interview with Rabbi Sasso about discussing God and spirituality with your children.
This piece is part of our monthly series with The PJ Library. The PJ Library program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age eight. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation in partnership with local Jewish organizations and philanthropists, The PJ Library is available in more than 130 communities across North America.