Raising Mensches

Two new books will help parents teach their kids about Shabbat, honoring their parents, and other matters Jewish.

How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life

By Anita Diamant, with Karen Kushner

Schocken Books, 291 pp.

The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to RaiseSelf-Reliant Children

By Wendy Mogel

Scribner, 256 pp.

Chances are if you were searching for your place in the Jewish world as a grown-up, you read Anita Diamant's "The New Jewish Wedding." Perhaps you then moved along to Diamant's "Living a Jewish Life," and then, if you were going the parent route, you went on to read "The New Jewish Baby Book," followed soon after by "Bible Baby Names." Now, if you have any time to read at all, you will want to spend it with "How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life," which Diamant (author as well of the best-selling novel "The Red Tent") has written with Karen Kushner, a family therapist and children's book author.


Diamant provides parents with necessary information to create joyous Jewish lives for their children, lives infused with Jewish values, Jewish rituals, and the possibility of Jewish memories that will be compelling enough to endure. In doing so, Diamant and Kushner manage to avoid the ubiquitous metaphor of building fences around a crumbling Judaism. Rather, Diamant depicts Judaism as vibrant, a source of wisdom and a path toward a meaningful life. Parents looking for help in presenting Judaism to their children will find this a useful handbook.

Most helpful are the authors' suggestions for making holidays more fun and kid-friendly. My favorites are for Passover. Diamant suggests creating a tent or place under the table for kids to hide out, pretending they are Israelites when their interest in the seder lags (this can work nicely for cranky adults too). They suggest jazzing up the plagues with "origami frogs, plastic bugs, red food coloring dropped into a clear bowl of water (for blood), a burned-out light bulb or dark glasses (for darkness), rice (for lice), ping-pong balls (hail), bubble wrap (boils)," and so forth. There's celebrating freedom by eating dessert first: chocolate matzoh. There's going to the "Lotus Blossom Chinese Restaurant" as a traditional post-Passover "break-the-fast" (it's pizza in my house).

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