I was cleaning out my hard drive earlier this week (yay, me) and found a treasure trove - a stash of photos and videos from when my kids were small. A little head peeping out from a bubble bath, a teeny figure bundled into snow pants, a baby sleeping under the afghan my grandmother had made for me when I went off to college. The pictures - and the times that came flooding back - are on my mind as Shabbat approaches; so I thought I would share some of the rituals and customs our family practiced to make Shabbat special for our kids in their earliest days:
Singing Shabbat songs. We sing to our babies, like, all the time, right? On Shabbat, why not add a couple of special tunes to your repertoire? You can revisit Shabbat songs from your own childhood or find some new favorites online - the classic "Bim Bam Shabbat Shalom" is really engaging and fun, and Debbie Friedman's "Veshamru" is melodic and soothing - the perfect accompaniment to Friday bedtime or a Saturday nap. Even though your baby is too young to understand the songs' words or meaning, you're setting up a routine that makes Shabbat different and special - and that rhythm is something she'll understand sooner than you realize.
Wearing white. It's traditional to reflect the purity and holiness of Shabbat in our garments - and what could be more pure and holy than our little ones? Set aside a pair of white pajamas or a white sleep sack for Friday night, and wrap your little one in a white blanket on Saturday. Your Shabbat prince or Shabbat princess will look - and over time come to feel - extra special on Shabbat.
Reading Shabbat books. There are some amazing Shabbat and Jewish board books out there: you can generally count on Jewish Lights Publishing, URJ Press, and Kar-Ben for quality writing and appealing illustrations. (And if your child is not already signed up, check with your local Jewish Federation or online to see about enrolling him/her in the PJ Library and receiving a free Jewish book every month - no strings, I'm serious!) Find a couple of Shabbat- or Jewish-themed books that your child especially likes and set them aside as a Shabbat storytime treat.
Blessing your little one. Even though it can be hard to welcome Shabbat with a baby, having your child watch you light the Shabbat candles, recite kiddush, and enjoy some challah will make the Sabbath a regular - and special - part of your family's routine. And you can make Friday evening a unique time to connect with your little one; in the candles' warm glow, place your hands on that precious head and offer your child the blessing that Jewish parents have bestowed on their children for countless generations: "Yesimech Elohim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Leah, veRachel, May God make you as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel" for daughters, and "Yesimcha Elohim k’Efryeem vechi’Menasheh, May God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh" for sons.
Have you found other ways to make Shabbat special for your young family? I'd love to hear about them - please leave a comment, and I'll share your family rituals in an upcoming post.
Wishing you and your little ones a Shabbat of peace and abundant blessing!