Jewish novelist and journalist Anita Diamant describes winter as “…the season when people of all faiths and cultures are pushing back against the planetary darkness. We string bulbs, ignite bonfires, and light candles. And we sing.” It is easy to feel in touch with this resilience in December and early January, when the crisp air has not yet grown biting and the winter holidays buoy us through. But on the other side of Hanukkah, it can be more difficult to find that light among the darkness. While there are a few Jewish holidays in the winter months to carry us through (including Tu BiShvat), we can also cultivate that spirit of gratitude, joy, and connection through the Judaism of the every day. Don’t wait for the excuse of a holiday, and dive into Jewish joy with these five ideas!
Count your blessings.
The Mishnah Torah, one of the most monumental Jewish legal codes, instructs us to recite 100 blessings every day! This might feel like a lofty goal…until you realize just how many things we can offer gratitude for. Did you witness a particularly beautiful sunset? There’s a blessing for that. Did you make it through a treacherous, snowy drive safely? There’s a blessing for that. Did you manage to get out of bed and put your shoes on? There’s a blessing for that, too! On Sunday mornings, we invite our BJEP students to think about and share what they are grateful for, reciting our own version of Birkot Hashachar, the morning blessings. In your day-to-day routine, you can take a couple moments over breakfast or on your drive to school to share a couple of gratitudes with your kids, carpool, or even just yourself!
Take a moment to mark Shabbat each week.
To me, one of the gifts of Shabbat is that it reminds us that even God rested. God, who was literally in charge of creating the whole entire world, reached a point at which God decided to stop creating and to just appreciate what God had accomplished. We can channel this mentality by taking a moment to recognize what we’ve accomplished at the end of each week. My friend Toby shares that when she lights Shabbat candles, she speaks this intention out loud: “My work for the week is done.” While it might feel like there’s always more to do, we can bask in what has been completed, rather than stressing about what we still need to accomplish. Bring the whole family into this ritual by creating your own candlestick holders, like these. No candles at home? No problem. Use tea lights instead.
Turn up those tunes.
There is SO much Jewish music in the world, including plenty of songs that can brighten even the gloomiest day. My personal favorite way to incorporate Jewish music into my life? Through my alarm clock. If your phone alarm allows you to pull from your music library, make your wake-up tune a Jewish song of gratitude like this one! Alternatively, have a Jewish song dance party. Check out JKids radio for some musical inspiration. If you’re an a cappella fan, Brandeis University a cappella group Manginah, a regular visitor to BJEP and a BJEP favorite, offers more music here.
If you’re lacking dinner inspiration or just looking for an activity for a cozy winter weekend day, borrow a Jewish cookbook from your local library and try your hand at cooking something new. The Jewish food world expands far beyond challah and shakshuka! Kveller suggests some family-friendly Jewish cookbook titles here, or get right to cooking with this great list of family-friendly recipes from PJ Library.
Gather together with friends and family!
There’s a Jewish teaching in the Talmud (Brachot 6a) that when two people are sitting and studying Torah together, the Shechina (the presence of God) is present with them. What does this mean in plain terms? Learning and connecting meaningfully with others is a holy act! Whether you’re chatting with fellow parents during school drop-off, attending a meeting to learn about a town’s plans to expand composting efforts, or reading a Torah-inspired poem to a loved one, you’re engaging in something powerful. Seek out meaningful and holy connection this month by dedicating a few extra minutes learning and connecting with others.
For more opportunities to connect with the Judaism of the every day, check out what’s happening through Boston-Area Jewish Education Program (BJEP). BJEP’s program is crafted to be a catalyst for growth and development. Learn more. At BJEP, we are committed to providing a quality Jewish education for any child. If cost is prohibitive for your family, please reach out to BJEP’s director or a board member at email@example.com.
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