Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Holidays – Page 2

ASKING QUESTIONS…

HOLIDAY: PASSOVER

passover1Asking questions is essential to childhood. Doing one’s best to answer these questions is part of being a parent. Sometimes we are delighted by these questions, and at other times we are discomfited, at a loss as to how to answer them. Whichever it is, we know how important it is for our children to keep on asking questions.

This coming week is time for the yearly Passover seders. The Torah and the rabbis who shaped the seders placed children’s questions at the heart of the seder. Not only are the “Four Questions” designed to specifically engage children. The purpose of much of what we do differently on this night is precisely so that children will ask spontaneous questions. We cover and uncover the matzoh at strange moments. We hide the Afikomen, a piece of one of the matzahs on our seder plate, and we do odd things with unusual foods like dipping bitter herbs in salt water.

The seder speaks of four different kinds of children with four different approaches to the Passover Seder: the wise, the wicked, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask. Many of us would be uncomfortable placing any child in the wicked category. However, the point really is that there are different kinds of children with different kinds of learning styles. The questions of each child come from the point where that child is in his own development. The goal is to address children where they are and lead them to a deeper understanding of their lives and the lives of their family and people.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the special heritage of the Passover story and the importance of asking questions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What is your favorite part of the Passover holiday?
  • How do you think the Passover story connects to your life today?
  • Discuss the various rituals and their symbolism—hiding the Afikomen, dipping bitter herbs in salt water, eating a spring vegetable,  having four cups of wine, asking four questions, etc. (The meaning of these rituals can be found in a Haggadah or on variety of Jewish websites, including myjewishlearning.com)

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

MASKS AND IDENTITY…

HOLIDAY: PURIM

PurimFrom the time we are born, our identities begin to evolve.  In certain instances however, our identities become fixed over time, especially as they are formed in relationship to siblings. “She’s the smart one”, we think to ourselves. “He’s the one good at sports”.  “She’s the one with the special needs; I’m the perfect one”.  We often define ourselves in relation to another sibling, especially if parental expectations solidify those identities.  Overstressed parents, who may have a child with problems or special needs, might expect another child to be “perfect” or at least more self-sustaining.  Such expectations might influence how the child will behave at home, not wanting to further stress his/her overtaxed parents.

Purim is the time on the Jewish calendar to play with identities.  We wear masks and costumes and raucously celebrate the story of Esther and Mordechai, where everyone becomes their opposite.  It is a wonderful tale of a Queen who, by overcoming her fear of rejection, or punishment, saves the Jewish people with the help of her cousin Mordechai, a tale that mixes humor and solemnity, danger, and drunkenness.

While Purim is a holiday of pure fun, more serious themes underlie all the celebration.  Themes of having courage in the face of potential annihilation and changing one’s identity are some of the more serious ideas underlying a holiday that is perfectly made for the imagination of children.  The holiday reminds us that whoever we think we are, we can change, especially in the service of a higher purpose, like helping other people.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the way we sometimes change our identity or “mask” depending on the social situation.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Are we different at school or with friends than at home?
  • How are you and your brother and/or sister different?  How are you similar?
  • Are there things your brother and/or sister excel at that you don’t try because you think of it as “their thing”?
  • What, if any, defined roles do you and each of your siblings play in the family dynamic?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

TREES ENHANCE OUR LIVES…

HOLIDAY: TU B’SHEVAT

TUBSHEVATOn our daily journeys we pass by so much of value that we barely notice. For instance: trees. Our very lives depend on trees. They provide us with fruit, shade, paper, often the homes we live in, and much of our furniture and other objects that we use on a daily basis. They are also a source of beauty and respite. Despite their importance, they tend to become the backdrop for our lives– easy to pass by with barely a thought or a glance.

Jewish tradition celebrates the New Year of the trees. It is called Tu B’Shevat, the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat. On Tu B’Shevat trees are planted and rituals of eating fruits and nuts and drinking wine are observed. It is a kind of birthday of the trees, and in Israel it is the time when the first fruit-bearing trees
awaken from their winter sleep and begin their cycles.

Judaism teaches that we should plant and protect trees. We should plant trees, no matter how old we are, so that future generations can enjoy their beauty, shade, and usefulness. We should protect trees, especially those that bear fruit, for the benefit of all society. Tu B’Shevat can be observed traditionally in a kind of seder with plates of dried fruits and nuts, fresh fruit, grape juice, or wine. Or it can simply be a special day for you and your children to notice the value and beauty of trees in your lives. Even at the coldest time of year, we can have faith that spring and renewal will come soon again.

TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN about trees and all that they give us.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Which kinds of trees do you like and why?
  • What are some of the wooden objects you use in your everyday lives?
  • Why plant a tree that takes so long to grow and mature?
  • How do our lives depend upon trees?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PERSONAL GROWTH…

HOLIDAY: ROSH HASHANAH

rosh-hashanahRosh Hashanah is perceived as the Jewish New Year, but it is so much more than that. It is time to reflect on the quality of relationships with friends and family and compare yourself to the way you were a year ago. Rosh Hashanah, according to the tradition, gives you a time to make amends to family and friends.

Use the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to go through a process of introspection and evaluation with your family, thinking and talking about habitual problems and conflicts that are difficult to change. Seeing other family members, regardless of age, struggle with their problems provides children with a measure of comfort and a dose of reality.

Give your children specific examples to think about as they make their own moral inventory of transgressions. Maybe they didn’t treat a sibling well or didn’t share. Perhaps they lied to a friend or didn’t act with respect toward an elder.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT how they could improve in their relationships.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Could you be nicer to your brother or sister?
  • Could you be a better member of your classroom?
  • Do you treat your friends the way you would like to be treated?
  • Do you act respectfully to your parents and grandparents?
  • How does it feel to tell someone you are sorry for the way you may have treated him/her?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

STUDY FOR ITS OWN SAKE…

HOLIDAY: SHAVUOT

ShavuotParents naturally want their children to do well in school.  We are concerned when they, for one reason or another, are not flourishing in school, and this gives us anxiety regarding their futures.  We do all we can to address whatever problems or obstacles seem to be in their way.  There are times when children feel a great deal of pressure from parents and teachers to do well in school and often this pressure can be counterproductive.

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot sheds a different light on the meaning of study.  This holiday, marking the receiving of the Torah by Moses on Mount Sinai, is commemorated by all-night study.  While children don’t often stay up all night, they can also participate by staying up past their usual bedtimes to study Jewish topics or Torah.  This holiday highlights the Jewish value of learning for its own sake– not for grades, not for some future career, not to make one’s parents happy, but for the simple pleasure of learning.

Introducing children to reading, studying, thinking and debating for its own sake can lead to a lifelong habit of learning simply for the joy of it.  This would mean truly giving your child the gift of learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of learning for its own sake, without reward or grades.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What do you like to learn in school?  What about it interests you?
  • What do you like to learn out of school?  What about it interests you?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.