I have been a mom for 7 months – it is the best job I could ever have! Every day our daughter, Nava, does something new and exciting. In the beginning, the most ordinary human experience was something to celebrate. She figured out how to burp. She smiled. She slept for 4 consecutive hours! And if I have learned anything during this adventure so far, it is that each day is filled with new questions. Which of the seven sleeping contraptions that we bought is the “right” one? Why is her poop so weird? How is it possible that she already outgrew the adorable outfit that she has worn only one time?
Along with such routine questions, there is another category of questions that I find myself asking often: What does it mean to be a young, Jewish family? How do we go about introducing our daughter to Judaism? What can we do today to begin instilling Jewish values in our daughter? These are some daunting questions for a sleep-deprived first time mom!
For me, the complicating factor in asking these questions is that I am a mother to an infant, not a child. Nava can’t say her name, much less recite the aleph-bet. She won’t remember the things that we do today – whether such activities are infused with Judaism is somewhat lost on her. So the question must be asked: why incorporate Judaism into our daughter’s routine at this young age if she does not understand what we are doing? The answer is simple. We have to start somewhere.
The only reference points that I have in my Jewish parenting toolbox are my own childhood experiences. Many of my early childhood memories are, in some way, related to growing up in a Jewish home. I remember singing Jewish songs at Gan Shelanu, watching my mom bake challah for high holidays, and eagerly anticipating the Purim carnival each spring. At a young age, I learned to associate Judaism with “fun” and felt that there was a place for me in the Jewish community. My husband and I want our daughter to have the same excitement for Judaism and sense of belonging within the Jewish community. These are big ideas to try to impart on such a small person!
So, we started with simple things. Nava sports a very trendy Camp Ramah in Wisconsin bib while chowing down on some mashed banana. We sing Hebrew songs and my mom reads stories in Hebrew. We registered for PJ Library and receive a free children’s book each month devoted to a Jewish topic (if you have not registered for PJ Library, it is a must!) Nava tried eating hummas for the first time this month – huge success! We celebrate Shabbat and holidays with friends and family. Although Nava falls asleep a few minutes into the evening, at some point, she will stay awake long enough to say blessings. Our hope is that by doing small things today, we get in the habit of finding fun ways to sprinkle Judaism into our routine, and build on it as our daughter is able to do more. Now, if only I could teach her how to recite the four questions by Passover…
Leigh Abrams Waterman is a native of Minnetonka, MN. Leigh is an attorney with DLA Piper LLP and now resides with her family in Chicago.