Making Judaism Fun for Kids: A Conversation with Nili Couzens
After experiencing the beauty and unity of MOMentum Trips, many women return home, ready to introduce new Jewish values to their children. But then reality sets in. How can we host a family Shabbat dinner when our daughter has a school dance on Friday night? How can we invite guests to our home when we’re a family of introverts? How can we get our kids to unplug for an hour, let alone an entire day?
According to Trip Leader Nili Couzens, parents who want to infuse their home with more Judaism should consider two things. First, children will do what their parents do. If you’re an outdoorsy person, your family trips will be very outdoorsy, and if your family loves art, your children will grow up going to museums. So, as you get involved in Judaism, it will naturally affect your children. Second, parents need to make the things that they love feel attractive to their children, too. If you go on a ski trip and you spend all of your time on the black diamond slope, then your small children probably won’t have much fun. And if you look silently at the art without sharing stories about the pieces with your children, chances are, they’ll be bored. “Be excited about everything you do, and make all of it kid friendly,” said Nili.
What are some great ways to introduce Shabbat into your home?
As parents, we have a good sense for what will work for each of our children. For one child, that may mean serving hotdogs and French fries. For another, that may mean inviting her to buy dessert with you. And for many families, that may mean not serving a six-course dinner. Most of all, your family’s Shabbat dinner should be a fun, relaxing family night that your children will associate with closeness, good food and good times.
How can parents encourage their children to get involved in Jewish programming?
First, it’s important to consider: do you take part in Jewish programming? If you’re not interested in it, there’s a slim chance that your kids will be interested in it. Then, pick activities your kids will like. Don't force them to sit in synagogue for hours as their Jewish experience because this is not kid friendly. Instead, you may want to find a kids' service or go to a celebration like a Purim carnival. Purim is a great entry into Judaism for children and it's right around the corner! It includes dressing up, silliness and giving treats to friends and neighbors — a mitzvah called mishloach manot. Build on what your kids like and then make it easy and accessible to them. If Judaism gives them a space where they can feel good and express themselves, they’ll continue to seek out Jewish opportunities when they’re older.
What’s the best way to discourage gossip?
It’s important to model the behavior that you expect from your children. Don’t gossip, and then your child will naturally receive the lesson you’re presenting. Make it a part of your home culture, and set it up as a value, not a punishment.
At the same time, it’s important for your children to know that they can share information about other people with you if they need your help, or if they just need to for their emotional well-being. This isn’t considered gossip.
How can parents make their children care about Israel?
Make sure that your kids know that Israel is important to you. Talk about Israel the same way that you discuss other values that are significant to your family. Share your love of Israel with your children. Include conversations about Israel during meal times. Bring them to your local Israel Day Parade or Israel carnival. Let your children know when you donate charity to Israel. And when they’re old enough, encourage them to travel to Israel — either with them, for a bar or bat mitzvah trip, or on a teen tour or a Birthright trip.
How can parents show their children the beauty of hachnasat orchim (hospitality)?
Most likely, your children and you have already done hachnasat orchim many times! So, let them know that inviting friends over and warmly hosting them is actually a mitzvah. Share with them that the parameters of that mitzvah include offering guests something to eat and drink, and walking them out when they leave your home. They’ll love knowing that they’re doing a mitzvah while doing something that they love.
What are your tips for introducing more Jewish customs into a home?
Start out by doing the customs yourself. So, for example, if you want to unplug on Shabbat, try it for a week or two. Once you turn off your phone, do things that are fun. Invite your kids to play a game or eat good food or cookies with you. Then, your kids will realize how much fun and relaxed you are on Shabbat.
Just go really slowly and don’t start by implementing things that will make everyone resentful. Manage your expectations, too. In Judaism, we’re only graded on our efforts because we don’t control the results. The best you can do is present opportunities in such a fun way that your kids won’t want to refuse.