Thursday, March 23, 2023

There are a lot of choices that parents have to navigate today. In addition to making choices about work schedules, what school will look like this year for their children, meals, housekeeping chores, helping their children with homework and chesed activities, Shayne also had to make choices about birthday parties that would be engaging for little David and Dina. Shayne and her husband also wonder about how they can incorporate Jewish values into their children’s after-school activities. What about an extra-special Shabbat activity that could be enjoyed by the whole family and friends?

Shayne’s friend Rachel also wonders about engaging her children in activities that reflect her values as a Jewish parent. Little Sarah is 3 and little Sammy is 5. They need things to do that are engaging, give them a physical outlet for their energy, teach them to learn to focus, and develop a love of all things Jewish. And what if Shayne and Rachel want to have some fun and be truly engaged in the same activity as their children so that they can share a bonding time with their young children? Sounds like a lot of multitasking to make one activity fit the bill for all.

Little David, Dina, Sarah, Sammy and their siblings also have a lot of choices to make. They want the attention of their older siblings, but cannot agree on what to do. Should they argue? Who will win? How should they decide who wins? They want their parents’ attention, but know that demanding and whining are not the right things to do. What should they do?

The older children wonder how they will keep the younger children busy with meaningful activities so that they can give their parents time to do what they need to do for the family. The younger ones are bored with coloring books and don’t feel like doing another arts and crafts project or playing with blocks. The older siblings don’t feel like doing another preschool activity. They are trying to do what is right by helping their parents with their siblings, but they, too, have choices to navigate. Am I being selfish if I just go to my room and FaceTime a friend? What kind of after-school activity can I do if I have to watch my siblings? What can we both share?

There is a solution that can fit these families. Bobby Doowah, aka Jeffrey Richter, is a children’s entertainer who brings either virtual (Zoom) or in-person classes and concerts to you. A former educational consultant specializing in music theory and movement, he brings his exciting assortment of original and standard Jewish and secular music to preschoolers and children up to 6 years old, their parents and caregivers. He even sneaks in music especially for parents. Bobby’s concerts, music and movement classes, music education classes, Tot-Shabbats, Mommy and Me classes, summer music programs, and birthday parties for the Jewish community inspire a love for all things Jewish. Torah, Rosh Chodesh, Jewish holidays and themes come alive through music, movement, dance and more. Some choices can be less stressful for parents and children. Visit Bobby’s website, www.bobbydoowah.com

Shayne and Rachel can also explore music programs by Kenny Green, who offers private mom and tot music classes, children’s parties and private lessons for guitar, banjo, ukulele and electric bass. Learning to play an instrument is a skill that will help kids of all ages, including teens, with developmental growth, cognitive skills and coordination. It is also a way for Shayne and Rachel’s children to have an enjoyable outlet when they spend time by themselves, especially in this time of COVID. Thanks to modern technology, it is also a great option to be social with friends, as they can play their instruments and sing and share their work via platforms like Zoom. Kenny performs his unique style of song-leading and interactive storytelling in both the secular and Jewish worlds. He runs music programs in a number of daycare facilities, nursery schools, summer camps and Hebrew schools. He helped found the Westchester Klezmer Program, Inc., by becoming its musical director. This not-for-profit organization is the largest of its kind in the world. Website: kennygreenmusic.com; email: [email protected]; phone: 914-276-0497 (landline).

Yet another activity are the programs that Brian Gelfand, composer, songwriter, keyboardist and vocalist, brings to children and adults. He works with both adult and children’s choirs (usually 4th grade and up). He has conducted a number of these programs recently for the Kinneret Day School, where he is the choir director. Brian’s programs can be done virtually or as a hybrid in-person/virtual program. The Brian Gelfand Group offers additional options for children and families to connect through music. With a unique blend of musical styles and traditional Jewish themes, Brian seeks to form connections to Jewish texts and modern Israeli classics to celebrate the connection to Israel. Website: briangelfandmusic.com

Shayne and Rachel also notice that the children like to help with cooking. However, sometimes the younger children are not so much help. David wants to pour ingredients, Dina wants to do the mixing. Then, no, Dina wants to pour the ingredients because David is doing that task. Sammy just wants to poke holes in the dough with his finger, and Sarah is more serious and yells at him for doing this. Sometimes having help is not so much help for Shayne and her friend Rachel.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the children and their older siblings engage in cooking activities and even prepare meals for the family, dare it be said, on their own? Israeli Renana Shvil-Tobi, owner of FiddleHeads Cooking Studio in Mount Kisco, New York, can provide another option for Shayne, Rachel and their friends to have their children engage in activities that can be Jewish-themed and that speak to Jewish values. In Renana’s cooking lessons, birthday parties, after-school classes and private in-person or online classes, preschoolers through 16-year-olds can take challah baking classes, a Rosh HaShana themed class with some Sephardic dishes, prepare Israeli dishes for Yom HaAtzmaut, and doughnuts and latkes for Hanukkah. Website: https://www.fiddleheadscookingstudio.com

The children also enjoy sports. But where can they learn about, and train with, a sports figure who adheres to Jewish values? Well, Tamir Goodman made a short training video for our readers: https://youtu.be/FgaoqR93o3A. This is another activity that Shayne, Rachel, and their families can share. Tamir is a former professional basketball player, nicknamed “The Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated in 1999. Tamir was ranked the 25th best high school player in the country. He gained national attention after averaging over 35 points per game his junior year, all while remaining faithful to his Orthodox Jewish upbringing.

Tamir then made history as the first Jewish basketball player to play Division 1 college and professional basketball without playing on Shabbat. Even though Tamir received a full scholarship to No. 1-ranked University of Maryland, he chose to play for D1 Towson University, as their schedule better fit his religious observance. In 2002, he moved to Israel and has played for such teams as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Givat Schmuel. He served in the IDF. Tamir currently runs a world-class summer overnight basketball camp in Jerusalem for players around the world. In addition, he runs popular bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah clinics featuring chesed opportunities. So yes, sports can also be a vehicle for Jewish children to learn about Jewish values and our sports heroes. To be involved in sports, we do not have to sacrifice who we are.

So while yes, there are so many choices to navigate, there are also so many happy solutions.

Susan R. Eisenstein is a longtime Jewish educator, passionate about creating special innovative activities for her students. She is also passionate about writing about Jewish topics and writing about Israel. Susan has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

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