Protecting Our Children From The Perils Of Summer

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The summer months can be a difficult time to cope with for many frum Jews. On the one hand, it is summer vacation. People travel, children go to camp, yeshivos have their bein hazmanim. There are many people who go to bungalow colonies or vacation homes where they can get away from it all. After all, the summer is a time to relax.

Unfortunately, the summer often becomes a time to relax spiritually as well. While it is true that a yeshiva bochur needs time to go outside and get some fresh air, that should not be seen as an opportunity to chas v’shalom cast off the yoke of Torah. And yet we find that every year there is a general relaxation of religious standards during summertime.

The months of July and August usually correspond to Tamuz and Av on the Jewish calendar. These are months of tragedy for our people. The three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, a period of mourning begins. We refrain from listening to music, live and reordered. We can not plan simchas, cut our hair, shave or engage in public celebrations. When the month of Av arrives, the Sages tell us, we need to diminish our happiness even more. Business activities should be curtailed. Ashkenazim begin refraining from bathing for pleasure, swimming, eating meat and drinking wine. The culmination is of course, Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, with the mourning reaching its most intense expression.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the importance of these three weeks, they are seen by many as an unfortunate distraction – something that needs to be worked around in the camp schedule. When people can only work out their vacation for this period, the laws become an unfortunate chore. Some people spend their time searching for a Siyum to attend, so they can work around the prohibition against having meat.

The Maharal explains that it wasn’t by chance that these days of destruction happened during the summer months. The months of Tamuz and Av are bad months for the Jewish people, because they are a time of extremes. Whenever it is extremely hot or extremely cold or extremely anything, that doesn’t bode well for the Jewish people. The Torah is perfect and as such is meant to establish an equilibrium for us. We Jews celebrate our holidays around the equinox months of Tishrei and Nisan. Extremes are something that is bad for us.

There is an unusual holiday right after Tisha B’Av called Tu B’Av. It doesn’t come out during the school year, so children don’t learn much about it and besides, it doesn’t have a catchy song like Tu B’Shvat. The Gemara in Tanis brings several reasons why we celebrate Tu B’Av, one of the more innocuous being that they stopped collecting wood for the wood pile in the Bais Hamikdash on that day. After Tu B’Av, the Gemara explains, the sun begins to lose its power and we are afraid that the wood wouldn’t be dried out properly. Wet wood can become wormy, thus invalidating it for use on the alter.

There are those who explain that this reason for the joy of Tu B’Av is that it is a Siyum. Whenever you finish a mitzva it is a cause for celebration. The Orchos Chaim however, offers a different approach to understanding the joy of the wood pile. We find in works of our sages that the nations of the world are compared to the sun and the Jewish people are compared to the moon. That’s one of the reasons that our calendars differ. They use the solar calendar, relying on the sun to tell time. They have months, but the months are arbitrary times and not dependent at all on the phases of the moon. We, on the other hand tell time from the moon. Our months begin with the new moon and many of our holidays are celebrated when the moon is full. Like the moon, we wax and wane – building ourselves up as a people to levels of greatness; only to face an almost total destruction, followed by a period of renewal. Counting from Avraham, Dovid and Shlomo were the fourteenth and fifteenth generations. It was the Jewish peoples “full moon” and we experienced our golden age. Our nation then began to wane until finally the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed during the reign of Tzidkiyahu – the thirtieth generation.

The fifteenth of Av is a day when the moon is full, and we are told that the sun has finally begun to lose its power. It’s hard to tell in the heat of August that the sun is losing its power, but that is the secret our sages are telling us. We are being released from the terrible hold the nations of the world have upon us. Many decrees were annulled on Tu B’Av as the power of the Jews finally began to reassert itself. The sun so to speak is waning while we, the moon begin to wax, and only two weeks later we begin preparing ourselves during the month of Elul for the high holidays.

Tamuz and Av are the months of destruction for our people. We can see the power of the nations of the world upon us in the relaxation of standards that I mentioned earlier. Let’s see practically what we as parents can do to minimize the minimize effects of the summer for us and our children.


Seder - Order

There is a tendency in the summer to allow a general hefkerus in our homes. Remember – children crave seder. They want to know when to get up and when to go to bed and what are we having for lunch. Parents who are usually very good about maintaining seder during the year drop all structure during the summer. The children will go to bed when they’re tired, they think. Besides they don’t have to get up tomorrow.

Children will not necessarily go to bed when they are tired. That’s why we have all experienced the phenomenon of overtired children. They need an authority figure to tell them to go to bed, even though the house is still “happening.” And children should never feel like they don’t have to get up in the morning. We all have to get up in the morning. Yes, if there was a party that ran late and we decide that the children should sleep a little later in the morning that’s fine. But to destroy a year of good habits involving bedtime routines and the habit of getting up in the morning is destructive.


Children Need Something To Do

Parents are often happy when the school year is over because now they can relax as well as their children. No more getting them up in the morning, figuring out what to give them for lunch, wrestling sleepy children into their clothes. But children with nothing to do find something to do – and often it isn’t what we want.

Older children can obviously plan their own activities (with our input) but younger children should have some kind of structure. Whether a camp or a play group or organized shiurim or a chavrusa, children need a reason to get up in the morning.


Food and Nutrition

Eating habits change over the summer, often for the worse. The weather is hot and that calls for lighter meals that are easier to digest with a lot of fresh fruits and salads. Instead families tend to eat more fast food, which is usually made of one part oil, one part salt and one part something else. I’m generalizing (possibly even exaggerating) but fried chicken, pizza, ice cream or donuts are not the major food groups.

Then of course there is the Barbecue which often goes along with the phrase “all you can eat.” Have you ever met anyone who only eats what they need at a barbecue? If you happen to be grilling trout or pieces of chicken, that’s lovely. But usually it’s steaks and hamburgers and frankfurters served with potatoes and corn and a few salads in mayonnaise. And then they are eaten to excess. Who gets up from a barbecue feeling refreshed and invigorated? Like most large carnivores, you want to crawl off somewhere for several hours (or days) to digest the days kill.

Now I don’t want to be a complete spoil sport, but let’s use some discretion. Fast-food on special occasions (i.e. mom’s nervous breakdown) is okay. But let’s not make a habit of it.


Tznius - Modesty

As parents, we shouldn’t need our schools to police our families dress and behavior. So even though it’s vacation, the rules for sleeves and hems and necklines and tight fitting clothing still apply. And of course tzitzit for the boys, even when it is hot; and if hats and jackets are expected for davening when they are in yeshiva, it should be expected for davening during vacation as well.

Be careful when the men and women hours are changing at the pool. Make sure everyone has a chance to get themselves together and out before the opposite gender enters. There are those who feel that if the earlier group are cutting into their time, the laws of tznius no longer apply. To date, I haven’t found a posek who ascribes to that view.


I have heard from educators that the first month of school (at least) is spent undoing the damage of summer vacation. Children forget what they learnt over the course of the year unless they review. There should be some time over the summer dedicated to reviewing what the children have learnt and preparing for the new year. Additionally, there should be some “fun” learning during the summer. Something they don’t teach in school that kids find exciting.

The summer is a dangerous time for us Jews and there is nothing we can do about that. But forewarned is forearmed and with planning we can at least minimize the problems of this time of year and hopefully experience a true geula in our lifetimes for us and our children.

 By Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky