Then and Now: Eli Yonas of Toki Mats

As our families grow we try and find ways to make sure our children stay connected to their roots. We draw from our own childhood experiences and build new traditions with our partners, children and the friends we make along the way. In our Then and Now series we talk to moms and dads about how they channel these rich customs, that have been passed down through the generations, in their parenting today.

We're so excited to introduce you to Eli Yonas, the founder of Toki Mats. Toki Mats are gorgeous non toxic foam play mats for children. You can learn more about Toki Mats on their Website and Instagram.

Tell us a little about yourself

I grew up in Los Angeles, and my parents both grew up in California as well. I lived in Israel for a few years where I met my husband before bringing him to California where we are now raising our kids. I work full time in sales and building my play mat business on the side. My son's name is Noam (4) and my daughter is Shaya (2).

What were your favorite traditions growing up?

Favorite traditions were the Jewish ones- the holidays, the customs, etc. The one I remember the most, probably because it was every single week, was how we celebrated Shabbat, the Sabbath. We sat as a family, ate the same foods, sang the same songs, and the memories are still so vivid for me.


Now that you have kids, has the way you embrace traditions changed? 

Yes! As an adult pre-kids, I kept the memories of my family traditions, but never acted on them. Now that I have kids, we make such an effort to keep the traditions alive, even (especially) when life gets super busy.

How do you explain other family's cultures and traditions to your little ones?

As a Jewish family growing up in America, my kids are full of questions about the celebrations they see out in the world and on their screens. We explain that every family has different religions and holidays, but we are friends with them all :)

Tell us how you’ve incorporated someone else's tradition into your life. 

My grandfather used to sing a bedtime song to my mom and her siblings, but my mom never sang it to us. Only as an adult, I heard my uncle singing it to his kids (my cousins), and I loved it so much I now sing it to mine. The song is special because it's in Hebrew, and you put your own twist on it by changing the words to rhyme with your kids' names.  

Do you have a favorite dish or recipe you grew up eating at home that your kids also love?

Cholent! You'll probably have to Google this one, but it's a traditional Jewish food that I ate every Shabbat growing up. It cooks all night in the oven, and you wake up with the house smelling super cozy. My kids now eat it every Shabbat as well, and love it!