High Holidays From Home: Creating a Meaningful Rosh Hashanah Experience for the Entire Family

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Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar (the reason this holiday, along with Yom Kippur, are called the High Holidays or High Holy Days). Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year (literally meaning “head of the year”). In 2020, Rosh Hashanah will look very different, but it can still be a meaningful experience. And if we ever needed a new year, now is the time.

A Brief Background

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah celebrates the completion of another year as we enter into a new year. It is also a time when we think about everything we did during the year and how we may want to be better in the coming year. Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Repentance that lead to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). During this time, Jewish people all over the world ask forgiveness for any wrongdoings over the previous year.

Rosh Hashanah is marked by a few special symbols. The first set of symbols associated with the holiday are apples and honey. They represent the hope to have a “sweet New Year.” Another major symbol of the holiday is a shofar (a ram’s horn). The shofar is blown during services on Rosh Hashanah and to end Yom Kippur. A third symbol of the holiday is a round challah instead of the straight challah that’s eaten the rest of the year. Forming the challah into a round shape symbolizes the cyclical nature of the year.

Holidays in a Pandemic

Like everything else in our lives this year, Rosh Hashanah will look like it never has before. Most people will be attending streaming services from their homes rather than gathering as a community in synagogues across the world. This is challenging because for many Jewish people, this is the time of year where they most connect with their religious identity and community.

Congregations and Jewish organizations are working hard to make virtual services accessible and meaningful, but despite their best efforts, some people, especially those with young children who may not be engaged by sitting in front of a computer are looking for alternate ways to observe the holiday.

A Very 2020 Rosh Hashanah

Adaptation has been a key strategy of 2020. We have adapted to online school and to staying home. We have adapted to wearing masks and connecting to loved ones through Zoom. And once again, for those who celebrate, adaptations must be made to create a meaningful holiday experience. Here are some ideas to create this type of experience, especially with young children.

Get Crafty

Arts and crafts projects are a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit at home. They can serve both as an activity that inspires discussion and education around the holiday and then they can be used to create a holiday atmosphere in the house.

You don’t need fancy materials to make a great Rosh Hashanah project. A very easy project is making apple stamps. As mentioned earlier, apples are an important symbol of the holiday, which provides a nice opportunity for a little education about the holiday as you work. All you need to do is cut an apple in half. Then pour small bowls of different color paint. The kids can use the apple halves as stamps in the various colors to make a fun design on paper.

Sticking with teaching symbolism, making a paper chain (connecting both sides so it forms a circle) is a great way to teach about the cyclical nature of the holiday as you craft. Everyone can write their hopes for the new year and/or things they are sorry about from the previous year on each link of the chain.

Eat It Up

Food is very important in Judaism. It can be symbolic and create a lasting connection to holidays. Baking with children provides an opportunity to create memories and traditions that they will associate with the holiday for the rest of their lives. And as an added bonus, it gives everyone something yummy to enjoy for the celebration.

Sticking with the theme of apples and honey, make it an extra sweet year with delicious desserts featuring those ingredients. Honey cake is a traditional Rosh Hashanah treat. Looking for something fun to make with kids? Try these bite-size apple pies.

Take It Outside

There are not many activities that we can do right now, but getting outdoors is one that we can. Back to the symbol of apples, apple picking is a fun fall activity and stays within the theme of the holiday. For those people who are not interested in spending the day watching services, heading to an orchard could provide an alternate meaningful Rosh Hashanah experience.

There is also a traditional Jewish ceremony that brings participants into the great outdoors. Tashlich, which translates to cast away, is an opportunity to symbolically cast away sins into a moving body of water. The sins are often in the form of bread crumbs, making it an easy and powerful experience for children and adults of all ages.

More Ideas and Explanation

For more information and inspiration check out these resources:

I have to add a huge thank you to my daughter, Hannah, who helped come up with ideas for this post. I wish you all a Shanah Tova U’Metukah—a good and sweet year. May this year be filled with health, happiness, and peace for everyone.

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