The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

January 22, 2019 by

This Jewish School Tradition Needs to Change.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t see the problem with the Imma (mother) and Abba (father) of the classroom Shabbat ritual until a friend pointed it out. The opposite, honestly: when my three kids came home from school on Fridays, I eagerly asked who in their classes was given that honor. I made a big deal of it, especially when it was their turn. Because it is kind of a big deal: in kindergarten and first grade, every week one boy and one girl get to make the blessings over the candles, grape juice, and challah. They are given a sticker. They get to show off their knowledge. They love it.

I love it too. Or I did, until I realized that not every kid has an Imma and an Abba. And that not every kid will be an Imma or an Abba, or be an Imma in partnership with an Abba. And that, really, no little kid should be inhabiting the role of an Imma or an Abba.

The problem is twofold: the modeling of an “ideal” two-parent family along strict gender and heteronormative lines, and the concept that ritual observance must be structured around the nuclear family. Language needs to change, and the roles need to change, because our community has already changed. We need to signal inclusivity and acceptance. Kids of all circumstances should see their families reflected in the way that we model our sacred moments.

Now that I think about it, it is bizarre to set up little children as parents in the first place, placing them in a couple with strict gender roles. They can’t even be parents yet! Shabbat should, can, and is welcomed and celebrated by all kinds of people who aren’t parents. We need to model that.

 In Israel, many spaces have already switched to designating a Mekabel/Mekabelet (greeter/welcomer) of Shabbat; as another friend mentioned, people have been welcoming Shabbat long before they became parents, if at all. Instead of Shabbat Imma and Abba, there are Shabbat greeters, paired regardless of gender. Or one can greet Shabbat by themselves, knowing that too is honored and valued.

It would be great for our kids to welcome Shabbat while standing witness to the many kinds of ways of being Jewish and embodying Jewish tradition. It would be great for our celebration of scared ritual to already have diversity and inclusivity built in to it. Shabbat in the classroom has the potential to be a very powerful model for our children, I realized. Once someone pointed it out.