Summer Re-JEW-venation

Judaism encourages us to have a strong yet healthy work ethic. Humans can live up to their divine image when they create, repair, think and otherwise contribute to a society. Judaism also encourages us to have a disciplined yet healthy rest ethic. Of course, Shabbat is the poster child for a time to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries, and shift our focus from our electronics to our family and friends. Can this Jewish wisdom help us plan productive and restful summer activities?

Summer is a season to relax, play, rejuvenate and celebrate quality time alone or as a family. Jewish culture has always valued time as “sacred,” and so we have a history of creating rituals to mark the passage of time and to bring meaning to our life cycle and holiday events. Rituals give the abstract notion of time more structure and may endow time spent in any activity with more meaning. By repeatedly performing these acts, we demonstrate their importance in our lives. Some special rituals, like unplugging during Shabbat, can also help bring you and your loved ones closer together.

Whether on a vacation or stay-cation, the relaxed nature of summer can make it challenging to maintain the Jewish rituals that are upheld year-round. But Judaism is not just for religious rituals; it is a culture comprised of music, dance, art and underlying principles. Many of your daily routines probably demonstrate acts of kindness and mercy (hessed varachamim), social justice (tzedakkah), learning (limmud) and appreciation of people and natural wonders (hakkarat hatov) – behaviors defined in Jewish tradition as those that deal with interpersonal relationships (mitzvot ben adam l’chaveiro). By being mindful of how these daily activities help you connect to your Jewish identity, and your local and global Jewish community, you can celebrate Judaism meaningfully all summer long!

The key to re-JEW-venating your summer is to take time each day to reflect, and to use an aspect of Jewish culture to find meaning and inspiration. Ask yourself: what about this day made me think about being human, being Jewish? Did I do an act of kindness? Was my day filled with appreciation? Was my day filled with awe and wonder? Did I do something special to fix the world? Did I create a new memory? Did I create a new ritual? Did I create “z’man kodesh,” sacred time, a time apart?

Here are a few suggestions to enhance your summer plans:

  • When you go on vacation, make time for reflection every night—relive the special things you did, and create a ritual to keep them alive in your memory. Take time on vacation to watch a sunrise or sunset, to take note of the moon and the stars, to watch the waves wash up on the beach, to watch a mountain change color throughout the day, to feel the wonder of a rainbow after a storm, to note the beauty of your surroundings. Create something together that will make this special time part of your family’s collective memory.
  • Create an interactive mezuzah* that accompanies your family or each member of your family throughout the summer. The interactive mezuzah should include relevant prayers or thoughts that your family composed. These thoughts can reflect on wholeness, thankfulness or the values from home you take on the road.
  • Create a “car mezuzah” that includes a personalized version of the traveler’s prayer:

“May the Shield and Strength of our ancestors lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, and from all manner of danger. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. Blessed are You, Who hears prayer.”

  • Create a special item to send with your child to camp that keeps family close even while they are away, such as a hamsa (open hand of peace) with a family photo in its center.
  • Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world, is a year-round project. Add a tikkun olam project or trip to your summer plans, such as writing letters to children in the hospital or cleaning up a park.
  • Create your signature Shabbat (special rest time) when you and your family can relax, talk, study, play and eat together.
  • When you are on vacation or doing special activities outside, create your own blessings, poetry or other form of expression to show your appreciation for the world around you and the special things that you are doing over the summer. Create a prayer or poem to be said when you experience something new.

Have a wonderful, relaxing and “re-JEW-venating” summer.

*A mezuzah –from the Hebrew for “doorpost”)— is a small parchment inscribed with short Torah passages in Hebrew. The parchment is rolled up, placed in a decorative case and attached to the doorpost of Jewish homes.