Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Holidays – Page 2

OPPORTUNITIES FOR JOY…

HOLIDAY: SIMCHAT TORAH

simchat-torahUnbridled joy is the gift that children often experience as they go through their daily lives. They are capable of so much feeling, of happiness and sadness, and with such intensity. We celebrate with them when they are happy, and we are sad when they grieve. At times it’s important not to
get too caught up with our children’s emotions and to maintain a calm front in the face of their ups and downs. At other times, it’s important to get right in there and rejoice or grieve right along with them. As a parent it takes wisdom to know when to hold back and when to join in.

Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, is the Jewish day for rejoicing—for children and adults alike. We dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the completion of a year of reading the entire Torah in our community. It’s a time to express unrestrained joy. Children are often put at the center of this rejoicing and form circles with one another in the midst of adults or ride on their parents’ shoulders. It is a time of great excitement, a moment to share our joy.

Having a day set aside to celebrate is important for community and family life. Simchat Torah, along with the weekly opportunity for joy and rest, the Sabbath, give us communal opportunities to feel and express one of the most important emotions of childhood and adulthood—joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the joy they feel after successfully completing a big goal in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you express your happiness? Your sadness? And with whom?
  • Why does feeling joy in the midst of others enhance the experience?
  • What makes us hesitate to show happiness or sadness in front of others?

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.

FRAGILITY, FEAR AND BLESSING…

HOLIDAY: SUKKOT

sukkotMuch of what we do tries to instill in our children a sense of security. What a challenge it is when life presents something unexpected to us that shows us how fragile we really are. Life in all its fragility can be difficult. We carry around fears of illness and worse for ourselves or our children or other loved ones. Everyone, at some point in life is faced with this feeling of fragility.

The Holiday of Sukkot is all about fragility. A sukkah is a temporary shelter with a roof that allows us to see the sky and the stars. The house is flimsy, but during Sukkot we try to live in it, eat in it, even sleep in it during the eight-day festival. It presents an opportunity to remember our fragility. Sukkot is said to recall the time the Jews spent wandering around in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt, while journeying to the land of Israel.

While on Sukkot we recall our fragility, it is also a time of bounty, a time of harvest, a time of great blessing. Sukkot is meant to be a joyous and festive holiday. When remembering our own fragility, we are able to be in touch with the temporary nature of all blessings and thus enjoy them even more deeply. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children that fragility also means good things: not only illness and death, but also blessing and joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the time the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the land of Israel and lived in booths through which they could see the stars.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of things frighten you?
  • What helps you feel safe?
  • How do you think experiencing a simpler, more fragile life in a sukkah would make you feel?

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.

FORGIVING OTHERS…

HOLIDAY: YOM KIPPUR

Yom-KippurIt’s not always easy to forgive others. At times, it’s emotionally easier to bear a grudge than to let go of slights. Having a hardened heart means we are impervious to continued hurts. But it also means it’s difficult to let love and friendship into our lives.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day of forgiveness. It is important to come to Yom Kippur with a clean slate. According to tradition, we are to ask each other for forgiveness and give others forgiveness before Yom Kippur. Once we are forgiven by others, we fast and pray on Yom Kippur with our communities, asking God to forgive us.

It’s important to instruct our children in the act of forgiveness, first by modeling. After imposing appropriate consequences and limits, do we forgive our children when they’ve committed wrongs? Do we ask their forgiveness once we have hurt them, or if we’ve been wrong? Modeling forgiveness can help them learn to forgive us, as well as their brothers and sisters and friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the importance of forgiveness and having a day such as Yom Kippur on which we are forgiven all our sins.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What happens when you get mad? Do the feelings go away after awhile? Or do the angry feelings stay?
  • Is it difficult to forgive people who have hurt you? What makes it so?
  • Is it easier sometimes to forgive others than to forgive ourselves?

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.