Jessica Slavin Connelly is a psychotherapist and longtime Jewish educator for area synagogues, camps and unaffiliated families. She’s also a busy mom.
I asked her how to incorporate Judaism into daily life. Yeah, yeah, we’re all stretched for time. It’s hard to add one more thing to a to-do list (and then feel guilty about if, say, you don’t make it to services). She offers up some incredibly manageable, resonant advice for weaving Jewish life into our daily lives.
“For every Jewish family, there’s a different way to be Jewish,” she says.
In that spirit, some helpful reminders:
Jewish identity is internal.
What does your identity mean to you? Not everything has to happen in a synagogue, though that’s certainly a wonderful, powerful gathering place for reflection. This kind of reflection can be hard to do alone (have you ever tried doing yoga alone, for example?), and it helps to have a supportive community. As Ahad Ha’am said, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” The marking of time through the laws of the Sabbath gave the Jews the chance to regroup in communities at the end of every week, and this regrouping helps to sustain Jewish identity. Think about what this identity means for you, personally, and for your family. Marking time can be a very personal effort.
“Ask yourself, ‘What drives me?'” Connelly says. There are plenty of rituals and holidays, each important in their own way, but you don’t have to do each one. Think about what resonates most for you. “What do you feel in your busy life will help you sustain a Jewish identity day to day?” Maybe it’s about lighting candles on Shabbat. Maybe it’s about singing a song. Maybe it’s about keeping kosher at home, but not outside the home if that becomes challenging. Do what feels manageable.
Shabbat, of course, happens every week. But maybe you can’t get to Friday services at 5:45 p.m. due to commuting, although Tot Shabbat on Saturday mornings feels more doable. Reframe your expectations and remember why you do what you do: The idea behind Shabbat, for instance, is rest and respite. It’s about setting aside a sacred time. “Take a nature walk. Turn off the TV. Read a Shabbat story to your children,” Connelly suggests. (She highly recommends PJ Library for terrific Jewish stories.) You needn’t upend your schedule and then beat yourself up. Instead, create rituals that you can maintain and sustain in the long term.
For example, Connelly knew an educator who always held a seder by the sea. No matter what the weather, she and her family would pack a picnic, go to the ocean and sip matzoh-ball soup out of thermoses. Offbeat, sure. But for her family, this was sustenance. “Get to the nuts and bolts about what really matters. You do not have to do everything. Do one thing,” Connelly says.
Pinpoint the Jewish values that matter most to you, and nourish them.
Is it culture? Community? Religion? Food? Pinpoint the particular aspect of Judaism that matters the most to your family, and hone in on that, whether it’s by joining a community group for parents of young children or enrolling in a class for interfaith couples, if that applies to your family. Target the particular area that makes you feel committed. If Shabbat is a priority, for example, make it easy and inclusive. Connelly has ordered KidKraft Shabbat sets with candlesticks, pretend challah loaves and goblets to help her family celebrate the Sabbath, lending a special boost to the everyday.
“What small thing helps you connect on a daily basis? List out what’s meaningful to you in general. Focus on what matters to you. You don’t need to do it all,” Connelly urges. Refreshing, isn’t it?