On her blog “Ima On and Off the Bima,” Rabbi Phyllis Sommer started something called #BlogElul. Elul is the Hebrew month preceding the High Holidays, and is meant to be a time of introspection as we mentally prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rabbi Sommer has designated every day of Elul to a different topic, and will be blogging about each one and encouraging others to join in.
The #BlogElul challenge spoke to me, as each year I contemplate how to weave bits of Judaism into my children’s day. Bits that over time will be threaded together to form their Jewish identities and sense of self.
Two years ago my Jewish New Year’s resolution of sorts was to light the Sabbath candles every Friday with my children. It was something my husband and I were always well intentioned to do, but often let life get in the way of. But I held to my promise and a year of that simple act of diligence led to a preschooler who can recite Hamotzi, contemplates God, and identifies Judaism around him with his own interpretations. We introduced prayer at bedtime. After singing our usual rounds of Shema we talk about the things in our day and life that we are thankful for. We began to talk to God together.
This past winter, I gave my son a new pair of Croc clogs. They were rubbery blue and lined with neon green fuzz, every little boy’s dream. I presented them to him for his birthday adorned with a Duke Bluedevils logo (his Daddy’s beloved alma mater) and a Star of David button. He was thrilled. One day at the park a friend of mine kept an eye on my 3-year-old while I ran to the car to get something for the baby. When I came back she smiled and repeated a conversation she had just had with my child.
“I really like your shoes.”
“Thanks, my shoes are special because they have this star.”
“Yes they are, do you know what the star means?”
“Yep. I’m Jewish and this is a thankful star. It means I’m thankful.”
A thankful star.
When she told me this, something I’d never heard him say before, my heart nearly exploded into a million pieces. It was one of those moments when your heart feels so warm and light that you have to blink back tears as your soul quietly whispers , “You did good, Mama.”
One act, a resolution to light two candles every Friday night, brought me here to a place where I can see a seed that I planted grow within my child. He has an idea of God and Judaism that is all his own, derived from the purest, sweetness, and simplest intentions.
Yesterday, the first day of Elul, I found in my mailbox my baby’s first PJ Library book Apples and Honey. My baby who knows the Shema only as his bedtime lullaby and has never tasted honey. My baby who heard the shofar in his third week of life. I tucked the book up under my arm and went to the bookshelf to pull our collection of Rosh Hashanah stories.
On the first day of Elul, as per #BlogElul’s suggestion, I PREPARED. I pulled those books from the shelf and smiled at the familiar titles which reminded me of New Years past. Armed with these pictures and stories, today I will ACT. I will present the stack of books to my children with excitement and together we will read about the upcoming Jewish New Year with great anticipation.
Two candles. A thankful star. A stack of stories. These are the bits that when threaded together will form their Jewish identities. I will do as Rabbi Sommer suggests and I will work through these simple words this month to move my heart and my children’s hearts towards the Days of Awe. I will plant the seeds of the New Year and watch them grow.