The Days of Awe are an auspicious time of year for parents to connect with their children. The contrast of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the days of reflection that bind them together present parent and child alike with a profusion of opportunities for joy, growth and togetherness.
Here are some fun ways to help make the High Holidays more meaningful for your children.
As summer recedes into autumn, parents can begin to discuss the approaching holidays with their children. A great way to do this is through books. If you haven’t signed your kids up for the PJ Library yet, you can contact them at pjlibrary.org. The PJ Library mails free Jewish-themed books, DVDs and CDs to Jewish families with young children throughout North America.
Your local libraries and bookstores are also great resources. Most have at least a modest selection of children’s books about the major Jewish holidays. Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland’s Multnomah Village has a very kid-friendly Judaica section.
Sprinkle a few High Holiday books into the bedtime story mix as the season approaches.
The dipping of apples into honey is everything kids love: sticky-sweet, messy fun! Oregon’s own Hood River Valley boasts some of the best apples in the world. So why not pack up the whole mishpocha and head to the scenic Columbia River Gorge for a day of apple-picking fun? Your kids will be excited to contribute fruit they picked to the holiday table. For participating farms and orchards, visit www.hoodriverfruitloop.com. Don’t forget to pick up some local honey before you head back home.
When you set up your apples and honey, try carving out the interior of one of the apples for the perfect honey dish!
If you can’t swing a trip to the Gorge, visit a local farmer’s market instead. It is traditional on Rosh Hashanah to eat a fruit you haven’t had since last fall. Pick up some unusual fruit that your kids haven’t had in a while, such as a pomegranate. Pomegranates are often served at Rosh Hashanah as they are said to have 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.
Bake or purchase a round challah to represent the continuity of the Jewish life cycle. Bagels are great too, especially for breaking the Yom Kippur fast. Buy a dozen bagels and give one to each child. The round bagels and their holes are evocative of the annual journey of the earth around the sun. Nothing says circle of life like a bagel!
Create some fun New Year’s cards with your kids. Get creative and break out crayons, markers, stickers, glitter, whatever’s handy. Make a birthday card for the Earth, since it is the anniversary of creation. Make music! Shofars can be purchased at synagogue gift shops, local music stores and Everything Jewish in Portland. Some places also carry plastic toy shofars for the little ones.
Plan to attend the children’s service at your local synagogue with your kids. These services are a great deal of fun, with prayers, stories and song. Have your kids help fill grocery bags with plenty of canned and boxed food for the High Holiday food drive and explain the concepts of tikkun olam and tzedakah.
During the Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur, sit down with your children and talk with them about forgiveness. Ask them if there is someone they wish to make amends with, perhaps a sibling, parent or friend. Help your child write a letter, card or e-mail to a friend whom he or she has hurt or offended. If possible, apologies should be made in person. Parents should take the opportunity to apologize to their children for whatever mistakes they have made as parents during the past year. Kids 9 and younger don’t need to fast on the Day of Atonement, but older children might consider trying a half-day fast or just sticking to healthy foods for the day.
Either way, by the time you break the fast your whole family will be renewed and ready for the coming year. L’Shanah Tovah!
Rich Geller is a freelance writer, bagelista extraordinaire, husband and father of three beautiful children living in Portland. His book, WonderDads Portland is a guidebook for Portland parents. For more information, visit carbonbasedblog.blogspot.com.