50 Jewish Things To Do Before 13

Spin a Dreidel, Cook Latkes and Change the World

Change the World: No. 7 on the list is to go to a rally. Jews like to change the world.
Change the World: No. 7 on the list is to go to a rally. Jews like to change the world.

By Lenore Skenazy

Published June 28, 2012, issue of June 29, 2012.
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Bucket lists are kind of sad, focused as they are on the stabbing regrets we’ll feel on our death bed. As if dying weren’t enough of a downer.

On the other hand, the lists do present a nifty, compact way to remind ourselves that the time to enjoy life is now. That’s why I was so excited to hear that Britain’s National Trust had compiled a list of “50 Things To Do Before You’re 12.” What a great way to remind kids — and their parents — that what looms for all tweens is adulthood. Pretty soon it will be too late, or at least more awkward, for kids to make their first fort, or mud pie.

More pressingly, the things we do when we’re young influence who we become when we’re older. “The child is the father of the man,” yada yada. Get young kids hooked on camping, say, and they may well go on to enjoy a whole outdoorsy life.

Which of course got me thinking: What about “50 Jewish Things to Do before You’re 13”? (Thirteen making more sense than 12 for us, for obvious reasons.) Get kids to do Jewish things when they’re young ,and they just might keep doing them forever.

So I started asking around for suggestions, and came up with this list of my own. Good luck raising a kid who loves being Jewish.

  1. Find out whom you were named after.

  2. Plant a tree in Israel.

 Volunteer in your community. (Explain to your kids that Jews believe in tikkun olam — repairing the world.)

  4. Dress up for Purim.

  5. Learn how to blow a shofar.

  6. Make cookies, and bring them to a Jewish retirement home; talk to the people at the home.


Go to a rally for a good cause. (Explain that Jews believe in standing up for what’s right.)

Go into the voting booth with a voter. (Explain that Jews are thrilled with democracy.)

Dance the hora.

Find the afikomen at the Passover Seder.

Go to Israel, or get an Israeli pen (or Facebook) pal.

Play Gaga! (A soccer-dodge ball mash-up invented in Israel).

Eat in a sukkah.

Sleep in a sukkah.

Hunt for traces of chametz, by candlelight with a spoon and feather. Or even a Dustbuster.

Listen to Israeli rap music.

Listen to Arabic rap music (to get a feel for the Middle East that has nothing to do with politics).

Go to synagogue, and sit between two adults who love you.

Learn some Hebrew. (Even “Sheket!” counts.)

Learn some Yiddish (even curses!) or Ladino. (My favorite Ladino word growing up: moorsah — used when someone was in a bad mood and was trying to get everyone else into a bad mood, too.)

  21. Visit a Jewish museum.

  22. Make some money, and give it to charity. (Explain that Jews believe in tzedakah.)

  23. Try a matzo ball.

  24. Attend Jewish camp. (Or come to the old-fashioned bungalow colony we go to: Rosmarins, in Monroe, N.Y. Yes, that’s a plug.)

Cook something for the Jewish holidays with the help of a grandparent.

Ask a grandparent to tell you a story about the olden days.

Ask the Four Questions.

Ask a fifth: “Who’s Bitter Herb?” (Or make up some other Seder tradition — then keep it.)

Light Hanukkah candles.

Play Dreidel; win gelt.

Light Sabbath candles, and have a good meal.

Invite a non-Jewish friend over for a Jewish holiday.

Go to a holiday at a non-Jewish friend’s house.

Control Hollywood! (Or at least watch a Spielberg movie.)

Read a Bible story.

Read “The Flying Latke.” (Okay, that’s just there because my kids loved it. It’s pretty obscure. So, just read some nonvomitously-sweet Jewish storybook.)

Eat lox and bagels on a Sunday morning.

Try falafel.

Make a family tree.

Decorate a kippah. Heck, you can even call it a yarmulke.

Feel guilty about something. Anything. Then move on. (Or I’ll feel guilty for your misery.)

Have a debate at the dinner table about some burning social issue.

Do something nice for your parents.


Attend a bar or bat mitzvah — preferably your own.

See “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Look at a Torah scroll up close.

Read Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Make a menorah out of stuff (nonflammable, please) around the house.

Learn a joke. Get the timing right!

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to make a list of 50 Jewish Things to Do AFTER You’re 13. To help, send your ideas to heylenore3@gmail.com.

And here’s a thanks to all who contributed to this list: Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp; Jesse Kellerman, author of the book “Potboiler;” Yael Levey, co-founder of dreamBIGLY.com; Daniel Rothner, founder, Areyvut, Inc.; Carole Lieberman, psychiatrist/author; Debbie Schwartz, founder, Forever Families Weekend for Jewish families touched by adoption; Kerith Elizabeth Henderson, founder, Quintessential PR; Karen Jarmon, education director of The Jewish Lens, Robyn Kahn Federman, director of communications, Catalyst.

Lenore Skenazy, a public speaker, is the author of the book “Free-Range Kids” (Wiley, 2010) and the founder of a blog of the same name.

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