JEWS ALL OVER the world will usher in Rosh Hashanah, the New Year of 5779, at sundown on Sunday, September 9. This marks the beginning of a 10-day period of serious reflection and introspection. Some of us will mark the occasion by having a quick family dinner and going to synagogue to join with friends and congregants. In some settings the kids and parents will part ways, kids going to an age-appropriate space designed specifically for them while parents will enter the more formal space of the adult service. The clergy, now donning pristine white garments, is often accompanied by a special High Holyday choir and the tone of the service is serious, somber and thoughtful. The melodies of the prayers are different, the size of the congregation has burgeoned, the books in our hands are heavier and the mood in the room is both expectant and familiar.
These Days of Awe culminate at sundown, September 19, with the closing prayers of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and we hear the final blasts of the shofar, the rams horn that punctuate the different sections of the services. Collectively we ask for forgiveness and we promise to do better in our everyday lives. We wipe the slate clean after a 10-day season of reflection and we look forward to a new year filled with hope.
Whew! Pretty heavy stuff. How do we do this with kids? How do we convey to them the seriousness of the occasion while at the same time its hopeful side? Connecting tangible experiences with the senses, to traditions, is one of the best ways to learn. Thankfully there are several themes that help to make the Holy Days kid friendly and doing an activity together helps strengthen the theme while creating family traditions.
Sweetness is one of those themes that lends itself to a myriad of activities.
One of the traditional greetings for Rosh Hashanah is L’Shanna Tovah U’Metukah. We wish family and friends a “Sweet New Year.” A simple activity is to make greeting cards to send to those we love. The traditional festive meal on the eve of Rosh HaShanah is replete with opportunities to carry out the sweetness theme of the holiday. We say a special blessing as we dip apples in honey. Our traditional braided bread, which is the centerpiece of the Shabbat dinner table, is transformed into a round or turban shaped challah sweetened with chocolate chips or raisins. Honey cake and taglach (a sort of honey and nut candy) are traditional desserts. So, special sweet foods which can be prepared together bring the holiday alive in a real and tasty way.
The idea that we are celebrating the Birthday of the World is another kid-friendly approach to marking this holiest of seasons. And I remember as a child growing up in a less than affluent family, it was a big deal that we got new clothes for Rosh Hashanah. It made the holiday even more special and festive and party-like. Tashlich is another family friendly portion of Rosh HaShanah day when we gather at a body of water, throw breadcrumbs into the water and symbolically cast away our sins. I’m a firm believer that kids don’t sin, but they can understand the idea of missing the mark like an errant arrow missing the bulls eye and they can say they are sorry to someone they may have injured, or insulted or ignored. They can articulate what they think they could do better in the year to come and they can understand that on Rosh Hashanah we are given a bright, clean slate to begin anew.
The messages contained in the liturgy for these Days of Awe, these High Holy Days, are numerous and deep. We are reminded that life is precious, that relationships are important, that we have it within us to make good choices, that we have obligations and we can do better. And a sort of roadmap is provided to help us improve and it all ends with a long, lingering blast of the shofar whose notes turn from mournful to hopeful with the promise of a great New Year.
Turning these Holy Days into Holidays for your children should make your experience even more meaningful. Don’t feel like you need to do it all. Start small. Knead the dough to make a challah, dip an apple into a dollop of honey, buy a pair of new shoes (for your child), write a note to yourself about goals you may have for the year to come. Be thankful.
May it be a year of health, happiness and peace. L’Shanna Tovah U’Metukah…a sweet New Year!
(By the way you will find some great resources to help you celebrate by going on to the Jewish Federation’s website and clicking on the PJ Library Corner).
Debby Singer is the PJ Library Program Coordinator and a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.