Did you ever see the film Cheaper by the Dozen? Based upon the autobiographical book by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Cary, this 1950 Technicolor movie describes growing up in a family of 12 children.
Well, I haven’t, as of yet, seen this film. In reality, I have no need. I was raised in a home with more than a dozen children (same parents; I’m number five).
Looking back, I’m not sure if my involvement in the routine Shabbat and holiday preparations was because my mother needed my help or, perhaps, she was instilling in me and my siblings the joy and love for family and Jewish celebrations. Chanukah to us was about shopping, baking, frying, playing dreidel and, yes, fighting too. However, as I am raising my own family today, I have come to be thankful for it all. Attempting to do things differently didn’t work. Going back and emulating my parents has been the best decision I have made. I hope that, one day, my children will also recognize and be grateful for all that I am inspiring in them.
My husband, Rabbi Zalman, and I are the Chabad Shluchim, or emissaries, here on Roosevelt Island. We have been here for 12 years; having moved here when our eldest was just 14 months old. Being Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (who passed in 1994; yet, his legacy lives on in the over 3,000 Shluchim all over the world) gives us the strength to share our family and love for Judaism with those around us. The Rebbe taught us that each person is an individual, regardless of what they do, look, or act like. We must care for each and every one! Celebrating the Jewish holidays together with our friends and neighbors brings us joy and fulfillment. Just as my mother relayed to me when I was growing up, my husband and I are granting our children partnership in our way of life.
Our home is an open one with people stopping by and seeing our children at all stages. The children are encouraged to share with our guests their toys, thoughts, and also their excitement for the Jewish traditions. The children love to help with the preparations for holiday events, Shabbat dinners (one of my daughters has claimed the “job” of setting the table every week, giving her attention in adding her little touch), and Hebrew school. A favorite for the older ones is delivering food for the sick and running errands for the homebound, making them feel big and responsible. Although, at times, it may seem difficult to have things rolling the way we would like, the reward is infinitely greater. Allowing the children to pitch in, we feel we are giving them a sense of ownership and pride in what we are doing, thus bringing together family, Jewish traditions, and community.
When one wants something to last, it is passed on to the next generation; whether it is an object, song, or recipe. Family and holiday traditions begin in the home. We include those around us, thus, making it theirs. In teaching the young ones the knowledge we have, we are keeping the flame alive.
We make the effort to do this by offering classes in a fun and exciting way, willing the children to look forward to celebrating in their own homes; making the holidays and traditions theirs. We do this through MiniChefs (this year the theme is Around the Year, learning and cooking for the Jewish holidays, for children ages 6-12), through Hebrew school (weekly classes with hands-on activities for children ages 2-6), and Sunday Fundays before each holiday (giving the children a sense of excitement for the upcoming holiday).
Last year we had the children design a new Paroches, or covering, for the Ark in the synagogue. Each time they enter the synagogue they are excited to see this Paroches of which they were a part – it is theirs. Another way we get the young ones involved in holiday activities is by having them help pack and distribute Mishloach Manot, food packages, to their neighbors for Purim, a favorite Jewish tradition.
We encourage you to take along your children and friends and include them in your preparations and activities, be it working in the soup kitchen, making sandwiches, or delivering food baskets. Show them how it is done so that, one day, they will eagerly take their own children and friends and continue the Jewish traditions. Bring into your own homes the warmth of the holidays by preparing, sharing, and celebrating together. Don’t forget to impart, as well, your love for the community, for we are all one big family, each one responsible for the other.
Chabad of Roosevelt Island