There are age appropriate ways to help our children tap into the meaning of the day.
Tisha B’av as a young mother of children is challenging, to say the least.
We are torn between our own hunger pangs, our guilt at not feeling what we are supposed to be feeling (okay, the guilt is my thing; I’m sure you feel all the right things so you don’t have any guilt) and our children who would like to be wined, dined and entertained as per usual.
We might find it hard to strike the balance of being there for our children all day on Tisha B’av as a happy, comforting presence, while still feeling the sadness and longing of the day. We want to impress upon them what is missing, without burdening them with a sorrow that is still too heavy for their small shoulders to bear.
We don’t have anything left to focus on actually being mechanech them on this day, we are content with merely surviving and having them all survive, with spirits relatively intact.
But what’s the harm in taking a few moments out of the day to help them feel the essence of Tisha B’av on their own sweet level? You have to keep them busy anyway, so why not keep them busy in keeping with the meaning of the day?
For just a few minutes on Tisha B’av day, here are some ways to help our children connect to what will hopefully be their very last Tisha B’av in galus.
Here are some ideas:
- Plan Projects and Activities. Center as many activities as you can around the theme of the day. Build a Beis Hamikdash out of lego, magnatiles or whatever building toys you are into. Cut out bricks out of color paper and spread them around the house/yard. Send them on a hunt to find bricks. Then, they can glue all of the bricks they’ve collected onto a paper in the shape of a kosel. You can make a food project kosel (to eat after the fast, as per number 2), a Beis Hamikdash construction out of mini marshmallows and toothpicks, friendship bracelets, or whatever your creative mind comes up with. It’s best to plan this before the fast because if you’re anything like me, there isn’t much creativity to be had while fasting. This way you can also buy any materials you may need.
- Don’t Eat Nosh. When I was a child, we didn’t eat any nosh on fast days, besides for Yom Kippur, which is a yom tov. Children don’t fast we were told, but we could fast from nosh so we can feel the lack a little bit too. I haven’t seen it a lot in recent years, so I began wondering if it is actually a minhag with a mekor, or something nice that my parents did to instill in us a feeling for the churban. I went back to my parents, and lo and behold, it is written directly in the Mishneh Brurah, Siman 150 (tof kaf nun), seif katan hey. “…And likewise, children who understand [enough] to mourn: although we are not obliged to educate them [to fast] even at age twelve and even for a fast of a few hours, it is in any case appropriate to educate them to eat just enough to sustain their bodies, water and other simple food as they require, in order that they will mourn with the community.” (Translation courtesy of sefaria.org) In our indulgent society where most of our children hardly lack for anything, why not explain to them in a way that they can understand that since we are all so sad today, they can be like adults and have a fast of their own, where they “fast” from nosh for one whole day.
- Reframe their Challenges Through a Galus Lens. We hope for our children to have a carefree childhood, but it doesn’t usually work out entirely that way. Whether your child’s struggles are large or small in the grand scheme of things, chances are your child has experienced a hardship or two in his short life. Whatever it is they are going through, discuss how much better it would be when Moshiach comes. “When Moshiach comes, we’ll get to see Bubby again,” “When Moshiach comes, you’ll be able to see without your glasses, so you won’t have to worry about always losing them,” etc.
- Strengthen their Ahavas Yisroel Muscles. Galus and geulah may be a tough concept for children to grasp, but ahavas yisroel can hit closer to home. It’s never too soon to teach our children how to be kind to others and play with those who they might be reluctant to include. On Tisha B’av, encourage them to invite the friend who always touches their stuff, to include the kid who usually stands awkwardly on the sidelines, eyes begging to be let in, to share in ways that might stretch them just a bit out of their comfort zone. Remind them that the Beis Hamikdash will only be rebuilt when we learn to love each other no matter what. Perhaps you can spend a few minutes guiding their playtime if it’s indeed hard for them to play together. If your hands are full with your own children, have them work on ways to play nicely with their siblings instead of the usual bickering. After all, ahavas yisroel has to start with those closest to us!
- Tell Them Stories about the Glory of the Beis Hamikdash. This includes the nissim that happened there. If storytelling isn’t your thing, have no fear. Many others have done it for you. Here are several beautiful books for youngsters that you can read to them:
- Let’s Tell the Story of the Beis Hamikdash by Sara Blau
- The Beis Hamikdash by Leah Miller
- When We Left Yerushalayim by Genendel Krohn
- Just Imagine! We’re Going to the Beis Hamikdash by M. Safra
- Have a Mitzvah Contest Throughout the Day. Every mitzvah they do gets written on a brown piece of construction paper and hung up on the wall. See how much of the Bais Hamikdash you can build in one day. This of course, has ulterior motives because it will hopefully get them to behave a little bit better throughout the course of the day, preserving some of your sorely needed energy.
- Have the Children Make a Camp. If you have older and younger children, you can have some of the older ones make a Tisha B’av daycamp for the younger ones. Share with them some relevant project and activity ideas so that their daycamp is actually a Tisha Bav camp and not just camp that happens to be on Tisha Bav. If you don’t have that, or your older ones are already fasting, and reluctantly so, find out if there are any other children in your neighborhood doing such a camp. (If you are my neighbor, that would be my daughter!)
- Watch the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Video. If they are old enough, send them to a showing of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation Tisha B’av video for children. They are always fascinating, relevant and inspiring. If your neighborhood doesn’t have one, be brave and offer to host it.
- Sing the Songs. Have an unofficial kumzits where you sit together and sing all of the songs of galus and geulah, not only singing the words but singing them with heart and with feeling until they truly penetrate. They might not understand it all; they may not feel the pain so deeply, but the music will definitely touch their neshamah, and even if it doesn’t’ penetrate now, it is how they will remember the Tisha B’av of their childhood.
Here are some of the songs from our Tisha B’av kumzitz song list:
- Ani maamin in all of its various tunes
- Al zeh hayah daveh libeinu
- Av harachamim
- Al Eilah ani bochiyah
- Zeidim helitzuni
- Al naharos bavel
- Banei, heichan atem
- Rachem bichasdechah
- Es tzemach dovid
- I am an ancient wall of stone
- The little bird is calling
- Prayers of Peace – Mendy Wald
(Yes, as you may have noticed, we have pretty antique taste in music. I’m sure there are beautiful compositions more recently released that tug at the heartstrings as well; I’m just not yet familiar with them.)
Of course, the only way we can really inspire our children is when we feel it deeply enough ourselves. As mothers, when we are full of inspiration, it overflows and rains down on those around us. Most of what our children learn they do so by osmosis, observing us and drinking in the energy we give off and ideals we live. Before we even go into Tisha B’av with a mindset of giving a taste of it to our children, we first have to make sure we have grown in our own understanding of the mourning and grief of this time.
It’s fine and age appropriate for our children to want Moshiach to come so that they can see Zaidy again or so that people will stop getting sick. But as adults, have we matured in our perspective? Have we developed a deeper awareness of what galus and geulah really mean? We are yearning not only for money to grow on trees and our arthritis to disappear, but for clarity and connection, for spiritual completion and perfection. We are yearning for a time when Hashem’s presence reigns supreme in the entire world, when He gathers us all into His embrace and when He makes our splintered nation whole again. We are yearning for a time when Torah defines our role in life, when we have brilliant clarity into what that role means and when the confusion and doubt that characterize our stumbling, bumbling path in galus is lifted forever.
And until that day, we mourn as we stumble in the dark, not knowing what that light means but knowing that we so desperately need it. We cry for what we are missing and we cry for what we don’t even know we are missing. And we daven that some of those tears, whether they are literal or figurative, penetrate the hearts of our children, so that they too can feel the grief on their own level.
“כל המתאבל על ירושלים זוכה ורואה בשמחתה”
Reprinted with permission from the Lakewood Shopper Family Room.