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How to Enjoy a Jewish Holiday

Rabbi Hackenbroch
How to enjoy a Jewish holiday 

Switch off to Switch on.

Roads are deserted, schools out, and for many the preparations for a well-earned rest and get away are gathering pace. After all the time, effort and cost invested, we want it to be a holiday filled with special family memories.   So what’s the perfect formula? Touring the sights, being thrilled by amusement parks? Or sitting in a deck chair doing absolutely nothing? For me, the need for another holiday becomes immediately necessary when I return after all the packing and schlepping from the first one! 

Can Judaism guide us to the perfect holiday?

In Modern Hebrew the word for holiday is “Chofesh” - to be set free. In the Bible, Chofesh is used 17 times, usually in reference to freed slaves, and with it the absence of coercion. No longer does the freed slave have to follow orders from someone else. And this element of being on holiday resonates with us all in this modern digital fast paced world where response times are nearly immediate. So, is that it? A holiday gives us the freedom to do what we want with no limits?

There is another word the Bible uses in relation to feeling liberated - “Cherut” used in relation to The Exodus from Egypt. This word means not just an absence of coercion but in addition, the freedom to lead a constructive, productive and self-fulfilling life. Holiday time presents us all with the great gift of being masters of our own time and the opportunity to spend that time in a meaningful, purposeful and constructive way with those we care about.  And what is more precious to us than our children? As the shop for new school uniform will demonstrate, they’ve grown since last year without us even noticing, and anyone who wants to get ahead of the new school uniform rush will tell you, don’t buy at the beginning of the holiday as kids have an unhelpful knack of having a growth spurt over the summer. This growth spurt is often not just physical but emotional and even spiritual, and engaging with them during holiday time can be especially worthwhile.

A holiday gives us time without distractions and the demands of work. Will our children perceive we are present for them? Do they see us use that time off from work to do what we claim we care about most but “never have enough time for”, to nurture and nourish our souls? Do we truly disconnect so we can be fully present with our loved ones in meaningful ways or, if we are honest, despite being physically present is our attention diverted? 

These days of course, engaging meaningfully with our children is not easy, as we find that we are now competing against their digital all-encompassing tunnel vision as they view the world not through their eyes, but through their screens.  It’s tempting to leave them be. 

So how can we get them to switch on with us, when they would rather switch on the iPad? Structuring the day is key. It is well recognised that children benefit from a well organised day, which can mean there is time for the best of all worlds.  Continuing to work towards a family project, some 121 time with each of them, some fun in the sun, a visit to a place of interest, some relaxation time for you, and some screen time for them.

Below are some suggestions, one or two of which may work for you and your family.

So is a Jewish holiday really a holiday? Yes! switch off to switch on, be free, not to do nothing, but to do things which will make memories for you and your children that simply switching off will not achieve.

Happy Holidays.


Ten Holiday Tips to help Switch you On when you Switch Off 

  1. Be on holiday the second you leave your house- don’t take your work and daily stress with you.

  2. Children thrive on structure – make plans (allow for flexibility), and include your kids in its preparation. You’ve got time to let them help make the sandwiches – an activity in itself!

  3. Reinforce basic rules that don’t change during holiday time such as age appropriate child safety.

  4. Aim to unplug for at least part of your day, at the same time – to build a bank of happy memories and nurture your relationships.

  5. Plan a project or meaningful programme you can complete during the holiday as a family. It could be making something together, some social action volunteering, either here, or if holidaying in Israel check out the numerous options there.

  6. Reinforce school work by picking up on something your child may have missed during the year or found more challenging and work together over the holidays to improve this in a fun way.

  7. Add a spiritual dimension to your holiday - make it more meaningful in a Jewish way by incorporating a Jewish experience, either a place of interest, a Jewish social action project or some learning.

  8. Listen and learn from your children, what do they love? You may not relish watching “Frozen” again but your kids will love you for it!

  9. Try and incorporate a quiz or a merit board. 20 minutes or “school or learning” gets a sticker (their choice) each sticker gets 50p or works towards an agreed outing/item.

  10. And most importantly, remember to have fun. 

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