Bedtime rituals help children begin winding down at the end of the day. From stories and songs, to prayers and cuddles, these routines can include anything you wish so long as the activities are calm and relaxing for your child. Below are a few ideas for adding a Jewish element to your bedtime ritual.
Read Jewish Books
Reading stories together is a favorite pastime for many children. Have a small selection of bedtime books available for your child to choose from and have an agreed upon number of stories your child will hear before bed. Before long you’ll find your child reciting favorite parts of the story along with you.
Some examples of Jewish children’s stories that are great for bedtime include:
- "Before You Were Born", by Howard Schwartz
- "When I First Held You: A Lullaby from Israe"l, by Mirik Snir
- "The Bedtime Sh’ma", by Sarah Gershman
- "Goodnight Sh’ma", by Jacqueline Jules
- "Goodnight Israel", by Mark Jasper
Say Lilah Tov Together
Taking a cue from the “Goodnight Israel” book above, you can signal an end to the day by saying goodnight to the world around you. Say goodnight to your child’s toys, their pets, or even the trees outside. In Hebrew, “goodnight” is “lilah tov,” so you could say things like: “Lilah tov trees. Lilah tov puppy. Lilah tov trees,” and so on.
Sing Songs Together
There are many beautiful Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino lullabies that can be sung to children at bedtime. A few examples include:
- “Vig Lid,” which tells the story of a little tree with sleeping birds in it. You can find this lovely song on Amazon as part of Tanja Solnik’s “From Generation to Generation: A Legacy of Lullabies.” Solnik has the lyrics to this song on her website.
- “Laila Tov, Sleep Tight,” which is an Hebrew-English song sung by Craig Taubman on his CD “Celebrated Jewish Lullabies.” It’s a sweet song wishing your child a good night.
- “Durme, Durme Con Sabor” is another beautiful lullaby performed by Tanja Solnik, this time on her CD "Lullabies and Love Songs." This Ladino song wishes children a sweet night’s sleep. Solnik has the lyrics to this song on her website.
Review the Day
Children have busy days filled with new experiences and learning moments. Talking with them about the day's highlights can be a wonderful way to help them unwind.
With younger children this can be as simple as reviewing a few of the day’s activities in a calm voice, almost like telling a short story. You can add a Jewish aspect to this ritual by finding the times your child did something thoughtful or kind for someone else. Older children can have a more active role in this process by coming up with the days highlights or kind moments on their own.
Whatever your child’s age, you can conclude this bedtime ritual by talking about wishes for a restful night’s sleep and sweet dreams.
Say the Shema Together
Saying the Shema before going to sleep is a ritual that dates back to Talmudic times. Also known as the Shema Yisrael, this prayer comes from the biblical book of Deuteronomy (6:4-9). It is the most important prayer in Judaism and talks about our love for God as well as the Jewish belief that there is only one God.
Saying the Shema with your child can be a soothing and deeply meaningful bedtime ritual. Below are the Hebrew and English versions of the prayer, though it can be said in any language.
For younger children, start by reciting the first two parts of the prayer. As they grow older and become more comfortable with the words, add the third portion, which is also called the Ve’ahavta. Before you know it they'll be saying the Shema along with you.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal God is One.
Baruch sheim k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed is God’s glory forever and ever.
Ve’ahavta eit Adonai Elohecha, B'kol l'vav'cha, u-v'kol naf’sh'cha, u-v'kol m'ode-cha. V'hayu ha d'varim haeileh, Asher anochi m'tsa-v'cha ha yom, al l'va-vecha. V'shinantam l'vanecha, v'dibarta bam, b'shivt'cha b'veitecha, uvlech-t'cha va’derech,uv'shawch b'cha uv’kumecha. Ukshartam l'ot al yadecha, v'hayu l'totafot bein einecha. Uchtavtam, al m'zuzot beite-cha, u-vish-a-re-cha.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be on your heart. You shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.