Celebrating Judaism as a Family: A Conversation with Caron Blanke
As an independent consultant to schools and Jewish Community Centers, Caron Blanke spends her days working with directors, teachers, and families to create meaningful Jewish programming through relationship building, family engagement, strong communication, and parent partnership. Caron is an ardent believer that it takes a village to nurture strong Jewish identities. After all, traveling to Israel with the JWRP in 2009 alongside some of her closest friends from Denver led her to amp up her Jewish learning and make Shabbat an important part of her family life. We spoke to Caron about making Jewish traditions accessible for our children and the benefits of encouraging Jewish questioning in our homes.
How can parents emphasize the importance of Jewish traditions to their children?
First and foremost, we need to model expectations for our kids. So, if Shabbat dinner is important to us, then we can’t go out on a date that night. And if we believe that going to synagogue is important on Shabbat morning, then we need to go. As our children get older, there will be more competing interests. When we make traditions a regular and intentional part of our lives, we increase the likelihood that those traditions will be meaningful to our children as well.
Why is it important for families to engage in Jewish activities together?
It’s great to send our children to Hebrew school or Jewish camp. But if there isn’t a parallel Jewish experience happening in our homes, children will feel a smaller impact. When families can take part in Jewish activities together and celebrate Judaism together, their Jewish identities will ultimately be stronger. I also recommend institutional Jewish family programming that can provide parents and children with the skills, content knowledge, and developmentally appropriate activities to help them celebrate rituals and traditions together.
What might a meaningful Jewish celebration look like for a family?
Practically speaking, it needs to be accessible and developmentally appropriate. Young children experience things best when they can use their senses. For example, baking challah is a great activity to do together — from kneading the dough to braiding it to taking it home and eating it. I think that young families find many Shabbat traditions very meaningful. In our fast-paced lives, we don’t always take the time to demonstrate our gratitude and appreciate the sacred time and space that Shabbat gives us. Shabbat gives us the opportunity to come together as a family, eat special foods, say blessings, and partake in rituals. During Shabbat dinner in my home, we each share the best part of our week, who we helped, and who helped us. My kids really look forward to this tradition.
What is the benefit of encouraging Jewish questioning in our homes?
When we take Jewish education out of a school setting and bring it to a more informal setting, we need to focus on the why and not just the what. For example, our children will benefit not just from eating challah, but from understanding why we cover the challah and why we bless two challot on Shabbat. Understanding the meaning behind Jewish traditions and explaining those meanings to our children is vital. When we create a space where our children can ask questions and partake in conversations about our traditions, then we can experience partnership in our Jewish practice. We can even add new traditions and rituals once we realize that they might be meaningful to us as well.
How can our community help us connect to Judaism?
Surrounding ourselves with people who are at similar stages of life and connecting to Judaism together can make Judaism more meaningful and more fun. Judaism isn’t meant to happen in a vacuum. We need to be part of a community, connecting to one another and forging relationships while celebrating Judaism.
What are the benefits to enrolling our children in Jewish institutions?
Research teaches us that children who take part in a variety of Jewish institutions and programming — Jewish schools, youth groups, and camps, for example — have a better chance of being connected to Judaism later in life. Jewish institutions can be expensive, but many provide scholarships. We can also offer our talents in exchange for financial assistance. We need to make choices that help us create meaningful Jewish communities for our children.
What’s your advice for families who want to connect to Judaism outside of Jewish institutions?
If you don’t find meaning in your community’s Jewish programming, I recommend creating the experiences that you’re looking for. Engage in volunteer work as a family, and explain to your children how it relates Jewish values and why Jewish values are important to your family. Ultimately, we need to have conversations about Jewish topics with our children and model what we feel is important.