Bagels from Benny and the joy of learning to be Jewish

As every working mum (or dad) will tell you, modern families lead busy lives. Parents find themselves juggling work presentations with spelling tests, interview preparation with school plays and client calls with science projects.

Just as the free market economy has created ways to ease hectic lives (I may see my Amazon delivery driver more than my own mother) and smartphones mean your weekly shop can be done on the bus to work, parents still struggle with the question of whether they are giving enough time to their children. Jewish parents, whose guilt levels always reach that extra level, often have that additional worry: Am I teaching my kids about their Jewish heritage and traditions? Yes, we are taking them to shul on the high holy days and lighting the candles at Chanukah, but is that enough? 

In the UK, around two-thirds of Jewish children go to Jewish primary schools. Many communal leaders are proud of this figure, but it often means those parents who didn’t have a strong Jewish educational foundation themselves struggle to understand what their children are learning. Many parents may readily admit Jewish studies homework quickly goes beyond them and cheders often have limited time and resources to inspire those children at non-Jewish schools. More importantly, being Jewish is not just about learning things in a classroom.

If Judaism is to be passed on successfully to the next generation, there needs to be a deep-rooted love and respect for our heritage and traditions, coupled with an understanding of why we bother doing these often strange or amusing rituals.

There seems to be two ways to achieve this. First by inspiring families outside the home at communal events, such as inviting children to eat inside JW3’s succah or packaging toys at a local Mitzvah Day project.

The other option is to inspire them in the home. In our digital world, where screen time is often a reward for both parents and children, families still protect the 10-minute bedtime story slot. Currently, more than 4,000 children and their parents in the UK invite PJ Library into their homes each month to provide Jewish books for children aged eight and under. These stories enable families to learn about Jewish values and festivals together, in the comfort of their homes. A recent survey of more than 650 Jewish families in the UK showed 93 percent of parents felt the programme had supported their families in having conversations about Jewish life and 86 percent said PJ Library had been a valuable parenting tool.

Bedtime stories are a precious moment that parents still try to deliver in person even if the rest of the day has had to be outsourced to nursery, schools and playgroups.

It may lead to near-insanity when the same book is demanded for the fifth night (or week) in a row, but it also means a repeated story has created a precious memory for both child and parent.

By reading Jewish bedtime stories such as Shai’s Shabbat Walk or Bagels from Benny, we can introduce and foster a love for Jewish values when children are at their most receptive, help parents to feel a little more confident in their own Jewish knowledge and put those 10 minutes to good use.

Efficient Jewish parenting at its finest.

About the Author
Lauren Hamburger is the Director of PJ Library in the UK, sending Jewish books to over 4,000 children and their families each month.
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