When my husband and I made the decision to raise our children as Jews, neither of us really knew what we should do to begin the process. At the time, I was Catholic, and my husband hadn’t really practiced his Judaism since his confirmation in 10th grade. So I did what I always do: I located a source of information—our local Jewish bookstore—and purchased a number of books that would assist us in taking whatever steps might be necessary to ensure our children would be “good Jews.”
One thing came through very clearly in my reading—the importance of Shabbat. Deciding we would begin our Jewish journey by celebrating Shabbat every Friday, I obtained a copy of “Come, Let Us Welcome Shabbat” by Judyth Groner and Madeline Wikler (which is still in print!). This enormously helpful, compact little booklet holds all of the instructions for a weekly Shabbat meal.
Thus, our tradition began and has spanned over 28 years, eight homes, two states and the District of Columbia. My children, now grown, still enjoy Shabbat dinner when they come to visit. And here’s a parenting secret I learned over the years: I learn more at our Shabbat table by sitting back, listening and keeping my mouth shut than I ever do in heart-to-heart parent-child discussions. Why? Because at our Shabbat table, there is no subject that is off-limits and no question that won’t be answered. While civility and common courtesy are expected from everyone, it is this open discussion policy that has apparently made our Friday-night dinners a “hot ticket” with our kids and their friends.
Reading Shabbat stories and discussing them is a great first step in introducing Shabbat to your family. Here are my recommendations for kids:
“Where Shabbat Lives” by Jan Goldin Fabiyi
Ages 2-5. For the youngest children, this artfully designed board book uses simple descriptive text to describe all of the places where we can find that “Shabbat feeling.”
“The Shabbat Angels” by Maxine Segal Handelman
Ages 4-9. This is a beautiful retelling of the Talmudic story of two angels (a good angel and a bad angel) who visit every home on Friday night to see how Shabbat is being prepared. Finding the home ready for Shabbat, the good angel says, “So shall it be next Shabbat,” to which the bad angel must respond, “Amen.” If, on the other hand, there is no preparation, the bad angel says, “So shall it be next Shabbat,” to which the good angel must respond, “Amen.”
“Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks” by Amy Schwartz
Ages 5-9. Of all the Shabbat picture books I have read, this is probably my favorite. Why? Because this classic story says it all—a home isn’t home until you have celebrated Shabbat there. I’m also pleased to note that this book is a PJ Library selection. (Not a member of PJ Library? Learn more about receiving free books for your children.)
Despite the fact that many excellent Shabbat books have gone out of print, I encourage you to check your local library, nearby synagogue libraries and online used book suppliers for the following books:
“The Sabbath Lion: A Jewish Folktale from Algeria” by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush
Ages 5-8. A fabulous story of one small boy keeping Shabbat in the middle of the desert, assisted by a magical lion.
“How Yussel Caught the Gefilte Fish: A Shabbos Story” by Charlotte Herman
Ages 4-9. When Yussel is old enough to go fishing with his Papa, he learns about the magic ingredient that goes into gefilte fish, his favorite Shabbat dish.
“Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath” by Marilyn Hirsh
Ages 5-9. In spite of his neighbor’s resentment, and with very little money, Joseph manages to have the best Shabbat of anyone in town. His piety is rewarded in a miraculous way.
Resources for Parents
“Shabbat, 2nd Edition: The Family Guide for Preparing for and Welcoming the Sabbath (Art of Jewish Living Series)” by Dr. Ron Wolfson
This is an excellent resource for understanding the various steps involved in the order of Shabbat. Not only does it include all of the blessings, prayers, rituals and songs you could ever want, but Dr. Wolfson includes interviews with a number of families from all ages and stages of life, which provides personal insights into how others celebrate Shabbat in their homes.
“A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home” by Naom Sachs Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer
This is an excellent and thorough step-by-step guide to creating Shabbat traditions and rituals for the home.