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October 8, 2015 | 25th Tishrei 5776

Vol. 12, No. 3 - Shabbat for Teens

Learn to take time: to slow down; to consider our role in the world; and to rest!

The Jewish Parent Page for Families with Teens

Focus on Shabbat

“More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.” Ahad Ha-Am

In the hurried world of today’s adolescents, perhaps no other Jewish observance has more potential power than Shabbat. In the Torah we read, “On the seventh day, God had completed the work that had been done, ceasing then on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done.” (Genesis 2:1-2) Our tradition offers us this unique opportunity to slow down once a week, to consider our role in the world, to invest time in the things that are most important to us, and to give ourselves countercultural permission to truly rest.

Time to slow down:
While prayer is a central part of Shabbat, it is the family meals, traditionally eaten on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, which define Shabbat in many liberal Jewish families. Shabbat arrives on Friday evening at sundown and is followed by simple blessings over candles, wine, bread and family members. The tradition of hosting guests for Shabbat meals provides a meaningful reason for teens to invite friends to their home and for parents to engage in conversation with those friends. While families may also choose to attend Shabbat services together, it is this time taken simply to relax together that has the potential to provide respite to teens.

Traditional Shabbat observance asks us to refrain from the work of creation. Over time, this commandment (mitzvah) has been interpreted many ways. Can we imagine a day in which we refrain from using the phone, the computer, and the television, or any one of these things? As parents, we might make the decision to do this on our own, without asking our children to join us, modeling for them what it means to slow down. Consider the way the pace of our adult lives shapes our children’s lives. Discuss with your teens what they would like to have a rest from on Shabbat and how to carve out this time.

Time to consider our role in the world and things important to us:
During difficult times in our families or in the world at large, people of all ages have taken comfort in familiar rituals. In addition to the ritual of prayer and Shabbat meals, Shabbat offers a structure for us to practice active gratitude. Family members can share with each other something for which they feel grateful this week or something another family member has done which was particularly appreciated. In parent/teen relationships which may be fraught with conflict or endure weekly “ups and downs,” this is a regular chance to “catch a child doing good” and acknowledge the traits we appreciate in them.

Many parents have high expectations for their children today, and perhaps this is no different than in years past. Choosing to observe Shabbat as a family can also remind us that our accomplishments are not the totality of who we are. Consider the words of Rabbi Eric Yoffie to Reform teens, at the 2009 NFTY Convention in Washington DC:

“[Your parents] send you to “good” high schools with fine facilities. But the question is: what exactly are these schools “good” at?

They have lots of AP courses and plenty of college-hungry kids. And you and your sleep-deprived classmates are expected to devote your days to endless homework and lab reports. And not only that: you race from one skill-enhancing program to the next, taking SAT prep courses to improve your scores and doing a million extra-curricular things to improve your resumes…

Don’t get me wrong. Of course your parents should set high goals and expect you to work hard. But as a rabbi, I don’t worry that much about your economic futures. Some of you will be rich; some of you will be less so. But all of you have proved that you can jump through the necessary hoops to survive, and, for most of you, to thrive.

What I do worry about is whether the adult generation is pushing you too hard and sending the message that you must excel at everything.

I worry that we are not helping you, amidst all this busyness, to nourish your souls and to learn those things that are spiritually relevant to your lives. “

Time to rest:
For teens, actual sleep itself is critical. According to the Sleep Foundation, while most teens require nine hours of sleep nightly, only 15% report getting eight hours or more. The time honored tradition of a Shabbat nap, while seemingly indulgent, can become a family tradition. Alternatively, if your teen is already prone to napping on weekends, there is the possibility of integrating this into a broader observance of Shabbat, which might include a family brunch or lunch, followed by rest or other family time.

Shabbat observance can also provide a necessary day off from the rigorous and almost unrelenting demands of homework for middle and high school students. As the amount of homework students receive during adolescence has steadily increased, so has our teens’ inability to ever put it aside entirely. The message you send about the importance of rest and relaxation versus accomplishment is a critical one. Consider encouraging their teens to declare Shabbat homework free and support them in making this possible. (For more information on a national effort to respond to this pressure, visit

Questions to Think About:

  • Do you ever finish all the work you are doing, including not only school or work, but extracurricular and volunteer activities? What do you like to do when that work is complete?
  • What is the energy level in your house? Experiment with rest and breaks and discuss how the shift feels and its effect on you.
  • Does your family have regular opportunities for meals together? What happens at these meals that is valuable to the family?

Family Activities

Here are a few more suggestions for family Shabbat activities:

  1. Learn the blessing (b’rachah) for children that is traditionally said on Friday nights and take the time bless your teens. While they may find it silly at first, it can become profoundly meaningful if you add your own thoughts and wishes for them to the traditional words.
  2. Set aside one Shabbat each month as “nature Shabbat” and take time to be outdoors together—hike in a local park, go to the beach, or relax in the yard together for a period of time to appreciate creation.
  3. If being outdoors is not of interest to your family, look for other opportunities to experience quiet and serenity together like meditation, massage, reading aloud or individually in the same room, doing a jigsaw puzzle together or attending services.
  4. Listen to Jewish music. Many teens are familiar with a variety of websites from which it can be downloaded, or browse the selection at URJ Books and Music (start with the Ruach collections). Ask them to play a favorite song for you and talk to them about why it’s a favorite or their memories of when they first heard it.
  5. Identify cultural events that family members all enjoy and make a commitment to experience them together. A museum, play or concert can provide opportunities for time together and conversation on Shabbat.
  6. Take off your watch. Spend a day feeling less concerned about where you and your teens need to be and when, and try to just be!
  7. Encourage your teens to change their sheets on Friday morning as a reminder that care of the body is important (and may also encourage them to take a nap on Shabbat!).
  8. Consider a green Shabbat. Ask your teens to help you identify ways you can minimize your impact on the earth each week (such as eating vegetarian food or refraining from using appliances) on Shabbat .
  9. Choose a family justice (tzedakah) project which you can change periodically. Learn about the issue you’ve chosen together and discuss ways your family can jointly engage in repair of the world (tikkun olam).
  10. Talk as a family about ways to prevent parental work, homework, athletics, chores and other obligations from taking over the whole weekend, by setting aside time on Shabbat that is free from these types of activities. Consider making a family commitment to everyone being home for Shabbat or having all family members eat Shabbat dinner together before going out with friends.

Family Recipes


1 package yeast (1 scant tablespoon)
¼ cup sugar
1-1½ cups warm water
1/3 cup oil (canola or safflower)
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
5 to 5½ cups bread flour (about)
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and a pinch of the sugar in 1 cup of the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes. Whisk the oil into the yeast, then beat in two of the eggs, one at a time, with the remaining sugar (reserving 1 pinch) and salt. Gradually add 5 cups of the flour and more water if necessary. When the dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You may also use a mixer with a dough hook both for the mixing and the kneading.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and soft, about 15 minutes, adding additional flour or water if needed. Clean out the bowl and grease it, then return the dough to the bowl. Cover and let rise for an hour, until doubled in size. Punch down, cover and let rise again for another 30-45 minutes. Divide the dough in 2 and divide each again into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a rope-shaped strand as thick as a thumb and then braid the 3 strands together. Let the challah rise again for 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with greased wax paper and place the loaf or loaves at least 2 inches apart on the sheet. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the remaining egg with the remaining pinch of sugar, and using a pastry brush, coat the loaves in the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool the loaves on a rack.
Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan

Fruit Kugel

8 oz. (250 gm.) wide egg noodles
3-4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cups canned fruit pieces, well drained
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup or more cornflakes

Boil noodles in a large pot according to the directions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add beaten eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and fruit. Place in a medium-sized, greased casserole dish. Crush cornflakes slightly. Mix melted margarine and brown sugar. Add cornflakes to make a crumbly topping, and sprinkle evenly over kugel. Bake, uncovered, for 1+ hours at 350 degrees.

Matzah ball soup

1/2 cup matzah meal
2 eggs
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons water or chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
a little black pepper
2 quarts thin chicken broth or consommé
A handful of baby carrots or regular carrots cut into large chunks (optional)
A few stalks of celery cut into large chunks (optional)
Beat the eggs, oil and water together thoroughly. Add the matzah meal, parsley and black pepper and mix until you achieve an even consistency. Let this sit for a few minutes so the matzah meal absorbs the other ingredients, and stir again.
Bring the broth to a vigorous boil, then reduce the heat until the broth is just barely boiling. Add the vegetables to the broth (if used). Wet your hands and make balls of about 1-2 tbsp. of the batter. Drop the balls gently into the boiling water. They will be cooked enough to eat in about 15 minutes; however, you may want to leave it simmering longer to absorb more of the chicken broth flavor. They are done when they float on top of the broth and look bloated.

For lighter matzah balls, use a little less oil, a little more water, and cook at a lower temperature for a longer time. For heavier matzah balls, do the reverse. From Judaism 101

For Further Reading


The URJ Shabbatsite has a new Shabbat idea every week, and lots of other resources.

Myjewishlearning.comhas a large collection of articles related to Shabbat.


Doherty, William J. and Barbara Z. Carlson. Putting Family First: Successful Strategies for Reclaiming Family Life in a Hurry-up World. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002.

Fox, Annie. Too Stressed to Think? A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You Crazy. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2005.

Gordis, Daniel. Becoming a Jewish Parent. New York: Random House, 1999.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Mogel, Wendy. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. New York: Penguin Compass, 2001.

Shapiro, Mark Dov. Gates of Shabbat. New York: CCAR Press, 1996.

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