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A Meaningful Holiday for Parents of Young Children

Recently, a friend announced that she was not attending High Holy Days services this year. It was not a sign of protest but rather of resignation. Having attended services last year with a toddler, there was no way she was going to try this year with two small children. Even when a congregation offers tot services and babysitting options, the thought of getting to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah with small children can be daunting. But skipping services does not mean giving up on the meaning of the holiday — and here are some ways to do that:

The Liturgy:

While it may seem daunting — from outside the synagogue walls, while caring for little ones — to talk to God, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s magical “In God’s Names” provides a wonderful entrée into thinking about God in a way that can inspire both children and parents. Using rich and inviting drawings and simple language, the book takes readers through the search for the name of God. In both the fuller hardcover edition and the abridged board book, Phoebe Stone’s gentle round faces of many colors brings our own human diversity into conversation with the many names of God.

Reading “In God’s Name” provides a wonderful opportunity to imagine oneself into the traditional liturgy. If your children are old enough to sustain conversation, you might try a conversation about how you understand God. Click here for a basic conversation guide.

The Shofar:

Blowing the Shofar is another essential element of the holiday and staying at home does not mean you need to miss out completely. There are brightly colored plastic shofars for the kids to practice on. You can turn to YouTube for instructions on how to mimic the traditional call.

The Apples and Honey:

At the foundation of the Rosh Hashanah table are apples and honey. While the kids love the apples, the honey and — let’s be honest — the sticky mess, adults can use this ritual to touch on another broad theme of the holiday, appreciating the differences of the variety of people in our lives. Gather several types of honey, those made from different flowers, those from different countries or regions. Talk about how both the apples and the honey varieties are all sweet — and yet they are entirely different one from the other. The lesson: People may look different and interact differently, but they are sweet in their difference, and each worthy of celebration.

The Fruit:

It is a tradition on the second day of Rosh Hashanah to eat a fruit that is either new to you or that you have not eaten for a long time. Young children are only beginning to experience the fullness of the earth’s bounty and it is fairly easy to find a new fruit to try. Bring in the pomegranate, symbol of plenty, whose many seeds are also meant to represent the 613 mitzvot [commandments] of the Jewish tradition. Ask children and yourself what new things you are hoping for in the New Year.

Ruth Abusch-Magder is the rabbi-in-residence of Be’chol Lashon.

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