Guest Author - Lisa Pinkus
What is it about being Jewish that instigates our contemplation of creating a Jewish home? It makes no difference from which denomination – if any at all - a person may come, being Jewish comprises a comprehensive set of values and responsibilities. Creating the Jewish home is one of those values.
When a construction crew begins work on a new house, the first task they complete is the pouring of the foundation. The Jewish home is the foundation from which we create our lives. Just as the foundation of a house keeps it upright and provides support, the Jewish home does the same thing for the people within it.
A driving force inherent within Jewish culture is the ideal that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Our purpose, while living in the physical world, actually resides much deeper - within the spiritual world. The Jewish people are obligated to teach their children to be good people (menschs) and to make the world a better place (tikkun olam). Those undertakings begin in the home.
Probably the most obvious elements of a Jewish home are the symbols decorating them. The mezuzah - found in the entrance of most Jewish homes - houses the prayer most prominent to our religion. If you glance around further, you may also find a Kiddush cup, a Ketubah (marriage contract), Jewish artwork, menorahs, seder plates or certificates for trees planted in Israel.
Each of these symbols holds deep meaning and purpose within the expression of Judaism.
Intrinsic within Jewish tradition is the strong emphasis on education. This is evident by the overflowing bookshelves housing both Jewish and non-Jewish books. Many children attend Sunday school, and parents may join book clubs or weekly Parsha (Torah portion) classes at local Jewish centers.
Even outside the realm of Judaics, Jewish children are encouraged to excel, to be curious and to succeed in education. While Jews continue to remain a minority, they also receive a disproportionate number of higher education degrees. Our tradition’s value of knowledge is prominent in our actions and in our homes.
No matter the level of religiosity, rituals run rampant in Judaism. During daily prayers, we recite the Shema. On Shabbat, we light candles, eat challah and drink wine. Each of our holidays hold their own special rituals and customs. We have rituals for mourning a death, to celebrate a 13th birthday, and to honor the birth of a baby.
The rituals we chose to honor in our homes reinforce the connection we have to all Jewish people and bring meaning to our lives. These customs assist us in elevating an ordinary event into an extraordinary one and remind us we are part of a bigger picture.
Being Jewish is an ongoing process of learning and growth. Creating a Jewish home is the assurance that our values and customs will be handed down to our children. The Jewish home is the foundation from which a Jew builds his or her life.