Op-Ed: A Constructive Summer Vacation for Your Chldren
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Before Vacation Begins
Each year, summer vacation arrives accompanied by concerns and stress. True, it is way too long and should be shortened, but meanwhile, parents ought to prepare for it, so the vacation does not turn into a time of chaos and spiritual decline.
To this end, parents should speak with their children before the vacation begins, and together, summarize their schedules and various plans for vacation time, and later on, make sure they adhere to them.
In principle, most children agree that it is important to set specific times for Torah study during the vacation, to utilize the free time by reading insightful books, helping their parents, and other useful activities.
And when matters are agreed upon from the start, it is easier to put them into practice.
First of all, it is important to be strict about time schedules. Waking-up in the morning should be at a reasonable hour – at the latest, 8:00 A.M., and bed time should be the same as throughout the school year, or at most, an hour later.
The root of all problems begins with the disruption of sleep. When youth go to bed at 2:00 A.M., and wake-up at 10:00 in the morning, essentially, they live without parental supervision and guidance. They come home when their parents are sleeping, and wake up after they've left the house. Parents have no opportunity to hear about their children's activities, or monitor them.
Thank God, we have the mitzvah to read 'kriyat Sh'ma' and pray within a precise time, and thus, even a person who by nature is a late riser, given that he aims to fulfill the mitzvah, he merits waking up on time, and organizes his life properly, boys praying in the 8:00 A.M. minyan at the latest.
Problematical Hours of the Night
All the problems start when children go to bed too late. During that time, when their parents are sleeping and almost no adults on the streets, they begin to do stupid things. That's when they start experimenting with drugs. After all, a youth who gets up to pray, eats breakfast, and sets specific times for Torah study, does not suddenly start taking drugs between morning prayers and breakfast, or between his regular Torah study and his other hobbies!
The decline into loathsome behavior, negative friendships, and doing drugs, begins in the wee hours of the night, when bored youth who got up late in the morning, can't fall asleep at night, and hang out with friends with nothing else to do but drink, eat, laugh at nonsense, and seek out thrills.
This is what is explained in Pirkei Avot (3:4): "Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai says: He who keeps awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and makes room in his heart for idleness, sins against himself." The commentators explained that nighttime is intended for sleep, or diligent Torah study; someone who remains awake at night idly, is asking for trouble.
Fill the Vacation Constructively
Obviously, simply refraining from negative influences is not enough. Summer break should be filled with positive content, and most importantly, by setting specific times for Torah study, which is 'our life and length of our days', and every Jew, whether old or young, while in school or during vacation break, is obligated to learn Torah every day. Parents should summarize with their children which books they will study, and what their goals should be.
Summer vacation is an especially good time to learn topics that are easy and close to one's heart. It also can serve as an opportunity to review familiar topics. In any case, learning should be done with straightforward and comprehensible books, so that the children or youth – each according to their level – can feel confident and pleased in their studies.
It is advisable for children to learn partly on their own, and partly with a chevrutra (study partner) of similar age, and parents should help them arrange this. Boys and girls should learn separately. Younger children should be motivated to learn by giving them small prizes, while older children should be inspired with rewards appropriate for their age.
If the family has children of different ages, parents can ask the older kids to learn with the younger ones, and in this manner, increase their study time.
Boys who already know how to study Mishna and Talmud should be encouraged to encompass more. They should be encouraged to learn a complete order of Mishna, and a tractate of Talmud – or at least a half – during the vacation. If they have not yet reached this level, a challenging and interesting program should be found for them so they can continue advancing in their studies.
Torah Study for Girls
Nowadays, girls must also learn a great deal of Torah, so they can guide their lives properly. Presently, what students manage to learn in elementary and high school is still inadequate in order to understand the fundamentals of halacha, emunah (faith), and mussar (ethics).
Girls are not required to learn a few hours a day as the boys are. Nevertheless, they should be given a goal – to learn an entire book of halacha, mussar, etc., during the summer break. It appears that, in truth, boys require more study time in order to curb themselves and guide their lives, whereas for girls, an hour or two of learning a day is sufficient to set their lives on the right path. Needless to say, the more one learns – the better.
Teach Your Children Well
The best advice for educating children is for parents themselves to learn Torah together with their children. Frequently, parents complain about how worn-out they are from summer vacation. Their children drain them emotionally, nudging them to find something for them to do, and constantly complaining that they're bored. No matter how hard parents try to keep them occupied, the kids carry on nagging.
Instead, it is better to arrange a meaningful study session together, and at times when they are bored – offer to continue learning. Learning together will turn vacation time into a productive and pleasant period, and the parent's relationship with their children will be built on a positive and uplifting basis. As a result, the moral requests parents make of their children, will be more understandable and acceptable.
Educational Problems in Judea and Samaria
Occasionally, people wonder: How can it be that there are teenagers who grew up in religious, Torah-based communities, but their connection to Torah and mitzvoth is weak? True, every Jew has freedom of choice, and therefore, it is only natural that some individuals will choose to transgress. However, one would expect that the supportive environment of a completely religious 'yishuv' (community) would lessen this phenomenon.
In truth, there are religious communities in Judea and Samaria where the percentage of youth who stray from the path is higher than in city neighborhoods populated by secular and religious people. And parents wonder: After all, we chose to live in a good place! How did our child go off the path?
The answer is that no matter how good the environment is, the importance of parental guidance is crucial. Occasionally, parents who live in a Torah-based community, particularly, are negligent in the task of religious education. They work many hours and throw the responsibility of education on "the community" and on the "religious school", but when it comes down to it, they don't inquire who their children are playing with, and what crowd they belong to. They do not set daily times to learn with their children, and the results correspond. Residing in a Torah-based community serves as an excuse for them to abandon their educational responsibility.
Teach Your Children Torah
The foundation of education is to teach children Torah, and this mitzvah lies first and foremost with the parents, as the Torah states: "Teach your children to speak of them" (Deuteronomy 11:19). Although in reality, because of the hassles of earning a living, parents send their children to school and Talmud Torah, and the teachers become emissaries to teach their children. Nevertheless, we must not forget that the primary obligation is imposed on the parents and not on the school or the community.
Therefore, at the very least, during summer vacation parents should learn with their children, thereby elevating the vacation by enriching their children's education.
Shabbat as Living Proof for Summer Vacation
It should be noted that when parents are used to devoting an important amount of time for Torah study on Shabbat, partly with their kids, the children's summer vacations' also gain meaning. This is because the children get used to seeing their parents take advantage of their spare time to study Torah and to grow spiritually, and come to understand that this is the purpose of "spare time" – to give a person time off, in which he can advance in Torah, positive thoughts, and good deeds – in an unpressured framework.
After organizing set times for Torah study, parents can plan other activities that will enrich their children's lives, such as reading books, extra-curricular activities, excursions, etc. Concerning this subject, there is no need to elaborate – this field has been dealt with sufficiently. The most important point is that Torah study receives its predominant and appropriate place, and as a result, all the other activities will receive educational value.
Get a Job
In general, children and youth should find work for themselves during vacation time. Having a job teaches them about personal responsibility, and the importance of contributing to the world. By working, they learn to appreciate themselves, to recognize their abilities, and perhaps help them in choosing their future.
In the past, children would help support the family by the age of twelve, working with their parents, or serving as apprentices for other professionals. Today, there is no reason why children of a similar age should not work a little during their vacation. However, even youth who work in the summer should be careful to set specific times for Torah study.
Along with insisting on setting boundaries, parents should be careful not to argue with their children over minor things, such as their taste in music or style of clothes. Parents should insist on modesty, but not on the colors and styles of the clothes their children wear. If contemporary music bothers you, and creates an unpleasant atmosphere in the house, you can request they listen to the music with earphones.
Talk with Your Children
Another important point is to talk to your children about life and its meaning. Share with them – each one according to his understanding and age – the goals you set for yourself in Torah study, in the observance of mitzvoth, in your job, in responsibility for 'klal Yisrael' – so they will understand that the boundaries you have set for them are not intended to upset them, but to make them partners in a life full of meaning; a life worth investing in, and making an effort, on its behalf.