Shavuot is the holiday of education. It is the time of year when we reflect on our own values and traditions. This is also the time of year when we as parents can look back on the year and can appreciate how much progress our kids have made. We say all the time that the school year goes by quickly, and in some ways this is certainly true. In other ways, though, the education of our children is not really tied to a grade or to a calendar month, but is really an ongoing process. Sometimes parents, forget that the school experiences are actually only a small part of the education that we need to provide to our children.
This past week, after I had just finished teaching the last class of the year, I overheard one of my students telling a friend how happy he was to get a break from his Tfillin. As I was about to go over to the kid, I decided to wait to hear how this conversation would play out.
To my delight, the friend responded by reminding the first kid that putting on Tfillin was not at all tied to the school calendar. The first boy then tried to explain himself by complaining about how difficult and unfair it was to have to make it to school every morning at the ungodly hour of 8 AM. As the first boy continued to dig himself into a hole, I started to think about how this student of mine had somehow associated putting on Tfillin with the school schedule.
After the two boys had finished their conversation, I asked the first boy if his father ever took him to shul on days when there was no school. The boy immediately answered “no” that since his Bar Mitzvah, his father never encouraged him or his brothers to attend minyanim. I told the student that if he ever wanted to go to shul over the summer that he could call me and I would gladly come and pick him up. After we wished each other a “good summer” I started to reflect on this exchange and how it was such a shame that this boy, and probably many other students, were not receiving the right examples, beyond the school walls.
One would think, that especially outside of Israel, where parents are shelling out thousands of dollars every year to provide their children with quality Jewish educations, that more would be done to ensure that the educational values continued into the homes and social environments. No, I am not suggesting that every family change their religious commitments or that parents need to radically alter their schedules to make it to shul three times a day. What I am suggesting however is that we as parents need to be doing more to enforce the messages and values that we look towards the teachers to promote during the school year. For some of us, this may mean making sure that our children are learning Torah, even once or twice per week over the summer. If in-person lessons are not an option, there are several virtual learning programs available that can make learning both convenient and fun over the summer months.
Sometimes this may also mean that we require our children to attend Jewish camps over the summer. While, there are many great summer programs available, there is something nice about knowing that, even over the summer months, our kids will have the opportunity to continue their Jewishness, even in a less formal environment. For those families who are planning vacations during the summer months, making that trip to Israel, can be a life changing experience for many kids. I can still remember my first trip to Israel, when I was 13. My parents made that trip a central part of my Bar Mitzvah, and to this day, it was that experience that ignited my love and appreciation for Israel. Hawaii is great, but coming to Israel can mean a lot more in the long run, especially for the children.
Continuing the Jewish education over the summer months, does not need to mean extra time or expenses. We all know that even parents need a break over the summer from the constant homework, test prep, and lunches. We need to show our children though that our Jewish identity is not tied to the school building. There are little things that we can do, that will not require large amounts of time. Take 10 minutes every week and do something Jewish with your kids. Learn the Parsha together, or maybe choose one night every week to speak only Hebrew at the dinner table. You can also make it fun for the kids. Set a reasonable learning goal for the family with a trip to Carvel as an incentive. Another option is to ask your child’s teacher for some suggestions of topics to review over the summer. Most teachers will be happy to provide this information.
Education in general, cannot and should not be confined to the class room. Our children look at us for guidance and as examples. If we show our kids that Jewish education continues over the summer, then their own Jewish identity and appreciation will be strengthened.
Make the most of these summer months!