While walking along a road, a sage saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him: “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?” “Seventy years,” replied the man. The sage then asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world, because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise I am planting for my children.”

-Talmud Ta’anit 23a

Every year, religious organizations across the country mark the third weekend in October (this year, 10/19-21) as the Children’s Sabbath. This event is an opportunity for communities to come together and celebrate the children and children’s advocates in their midst, as well as evaluate and reaffirm their commitment to bettering the lives of children across the country.

Children in America still bear the brunt of some of our nation’s most pressing problems. One in six children in the United States lives in poverty. Over 16 million children live in households that cannot provide adequate food for all meals. Low-income families with children encounter great difficulty finding affordable housing. Approximately 20 percent of American children and adolescents, 11 million in all, have serious diagnosable emotional or behavioral health disorders, ranging from attention deficit disorder and depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Nearly 11 million children in the United States do not have health insurance. The Children’s Sabbath is a time for us to reflect on these startling statistics, and to find ways to begin to address these problems.

Though the Children’s Sabbath can take whatever form is most appropriate for your community or congregation, it typically has four elements:

  1. A prayer service which highlights our religious obligation to protect children and serve their needs;
  2. Educational programs to learn about the needs of children today;
  3. Hands-on activities to engage participants and begin taking action; and
  4. Promises of follow-up and of sustained attention and commitment to these issues.

The Children’s Defense Fund has extensive materials to help plan such an event, as well as a section solely devoted to Jewish resources.

We urge our congregations to hold a Children’s Sabbath celebration, either as individual congregations or in conjunction with other faith organizations in their communities. It is our responsibility to plant that tree—to make that commitment—to leave a better world behind for our children.


Image courtesy of Children’s Defense Fund.