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Brake for Children

I’ve become the overscheduling parent I hate. But Shabbat, havdalah in particular, can slow kids down.

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine, original photo Shutterstock)

So much of havdalah fits in with the Slow Parenting movement (and the Slow movement in general). The braided candle symbolizes how Shabbat and the week are intertwined. The fact that we incorporate wine into our ceremonies in a measured way, I think, helps normalize alcohol for kids: It can be a gentle part of family and religion, not merely an illicit substance we pour generously into red Solo cups while shrieking “Woo!” at frat parties. Thinking about Eliyahu HaNavi, about whom we sing, makes us consider how we treat strangers. I think havdalah could be a wonderful capper on our Shabbat and a slow way to ease back into the frenzy of the rest of the week.

Smart folks have written about how we secular types can benefit from Shabbat. And folks like Lipman have written thoughtfully about children’s need for repetition and ritual. Havdalah helps with both.

When I told Lipman about my little revelation, she responded, “I love havdalah; we had a havdalah service to start our wedding. Rituals like this help kids mark time, explore the rhythm of days, weeks, years. Nighttime rituals in general are so important—they help kids sleep well and feel comfortable in their place in the family and the world.”

Furthermore, Lipman says, religious and family rituals help restore awe to children’s lives. We live in a cynical age. But the more we can do to get in touch with things that are a little bit mysterious (fire, wine, heady scents, alchemy), the better for our families and our kids. “Awe can be missing in a technology-fueled life,” she said.

So, we can’t—or won’t—slow down as much as I’d like. But there are little things we can do, every week, to put the brakes on our kids’ runaway schedules. I’m going to try harder to do them.


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LucidGal says:

Havdalah is an under-appreciated ritual, one of the loveliest in all of Judaism (IMHO). Sweet, and a little melancholy about leaving Shabbat. As for over-scheduling kids, I used to teach bar and bat mitzvah students in the evenings and, by the time they got to me, they were exhausted…heavy schoolwork, one or two sports, other tutoring for languages, math, etc., music lessons, judo, whatever. It was clear to me that their parents were building their resumes for college. I felt bad for those kids.

While we don’t do Havdallah regularly at home (maybe twice a year when my sister the rabbi is visiting), we did start my daughter’s bat mitzvah party with it. Indeed, it’s a great way to transition from the ritual/sacred part of the day to the profane/fun of the party, and a way to remind everyone that this is a Jewish party, not a sweet 16 a few years early.

danlevy says:

Great column…lots to think about…thanks!

Joanna Brichetto says:

Lovely. Our havdalah highlight is letting the kid extinguish the candle in the kiddush cup. Talk about restoring awe. Love that sizzle. Another neat tie-in with the slow, the natural (given Lipman’s Children and Nature Network connection), and the Jewish: families can grow their own havdalah herbs, even in wee pots on the sill. One of my Israeli buddies waxes about the Shabbat basil and rosemary of her childhood, quite different from our usual cinnamon sticks and cloves.

Pesele says:

This is such a wonderful article and I agree with it completely. Just one quick correction: it’s not the “short kiddush.” It’s simply the blessing over wine. What makes it kiddush is that the omitted paragraph talks about why we have Shabbat–that it is an inheritance that reminds of us creation (ie, the gift and glory of the world) and of Exodus (ie, coming out of slavery and the gift of freedom). Your actions already speak to appreciating the dual aspects of Shabbat–you might want to add the paragraph to your Shabbat seder.

It feels like a triumph every week when we actually really do shabbat. Our shul has a monthly “PJ Havdallah” party, where the kids come in their jammies (I suppose bc they’re going to go to sleep when they get home) and we have an activity, some pizza, and the blessing. It’s sort of the opposite of what you describe here — it’s pretty frenzied — but maybe it’s good to take that as a cue to slow down on friday AND saturday nights whenever our social lives allow it! Especially now when they’re young and I’m still IMPRINTING UPON THEM.

sharonjb says:

try a bit of brandy or other alcohol on a metal tray and light that on fire as the candle is extinguished! flames blue and goes out – magical

Rachel says:

Love this – we started doing a little Shabbat ritual last winter. Our toddler is so attached to it now. If we’re at other people’s houses on Fridays he brings it up. “We need wine, candles, grape juice…” (We don’t actually impose the ceremony on others, but we probably should be better about just making Friday night a designated family night at home, like you.) Thanks for this. Really lovely.


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Brake for Children

I’ve become the overscheduling parent I hate. But Shabbat, havdalah in particular, can slow kids down.

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