Shabbat for Families

How to make Shabbat your family's favorite day of the week.

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Lighting Candles

shabbat for familiesFor many years, the lighting of Shabbat candles was a woman's domain. Today, this ritual can include whoever chooses to light candles. In some homes, there are two candlesticks lit, symbolizing each parent, and many smaller candles lit for each child and each guest. Make your candle lighting special by adding a candle for each child and lighting them all together as a family.

The Shabbat Table

The rituals of the Shabbat table are perhaps the most beautiful and family friendly of the entire Jewish year. Take out all the kiddush cups and give one to each person, or even use nice goblets. At the end, clink the glasses in a celebratory "l'hayim." Since hallah is always a welcome treat, make it even more delicious by extending the Rosh HaShanah tradition to a year round one and dip your hallah in honey. And top it all off by taking one cloth napkin and decorating it as a family to use as your hallah cover.

Family Blessings

One of the greatest treats for children and parents are the series of family blessings that are recited before dinner. Jewish tradition provides us with two blessings--one for boys and one for girls--which invoke our ancestors' merits and allow us to pray for God's blessing for our children. Parents lay their hands on their child's head or shoulders, and recite the following blessings.

(boys) May God make you like Efraim and Menashe. Yisimha Elohim k'Efraim ukhiM'nashe.

(girls) May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Yisimeih Elohim k'Sarah, Rivkah, Rahel v'Leah.

Following these blessings, parents customarily recite the priestly blessing, Birkat HaCohanim. If you'd like to give your child a role in this blessing, invite them to put their hands on your head, and give you the blessing of Birkat HaCohanim as you recite it together.

Make Time for Participating in Shabbat Services

Many congregations are recognizing that small children, too, can be welcomed into the synagogue to celebrate Shabbat, and are adding special tot or family services on Friday evening and Shabbat morning. These services are generally shorter, with a story instead of a sermon, and feature songs and melodies that appeal to children. When something is child-friendly, it's naturally parent-friendly; parents have the opportunity to get into the mood for Shabbat with their children, instead of being solely responsible for setting the tone. Families who go to services together enjoy the celebration of Shabbat together, and with their community as well, and the expectation that Shabbat is family time becomes an honored family tradition.

Shabbat Songfest

Many families enjoy adding to the beauty of Shabbat by singing songs after the meal. Traditional songs dwell on the theme of Shabbat, the different rituals, blessings, services, prayers, or on the spiritual nature of Shabbat and the delight that Shabbat provides for us. The Talmud mentions that it was the custom to sing songs of praise during the Shabbat meal (Megillah 12b), but there is no particular list of songs. Each family can choose the songs they'd like to sing to make the Shabbat experience more joyous. Many families choose to sing Jewish songs, but others sing special family songs during this time instead.

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Sara Shapiro-Plevan

Sara Shapiro-Plevan serves as the Coordinator of Congregational Education for New York City for the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York.