Over the five years that I have been writing for OCJL, I have tried to focus on different age groups. What I’d like to do here is create a potpourri of tips and tricks for a meaningful High Holy Day season, no matter how old your children are or what stage of life you find yourself.
For those with young children: Sometimes it seems as if when we have young children, we don’t have time to properly prepare our homes – or our souls – for the Jewish holidays. But there are many ways to make these holidays special and meaningful for young children. One of the best ways is to involve your kids in the preparation. Let them help you come up with menus for meals that you will share with family and friends, do the grocery shopping, prepare the food and set the table. It is definitely not too early to start teaching them about the traditions you have in your family. The memories you create will last a lifetime. Crafts are a great way to keep the young ones busy while you prepare. There are many related crafts, such as coloring placemats with the various symbols and themes, making candles and Kiddush cups and decorating a Sukkah. Not only will it keep them busy and help them learn about what we celebrate, but it will provide your family with beautiful decorations as well.
For those with school-age children: All of the suggestions above work for school-age children as well. Beyond that, school-age children are the perfect age to read stories about the holidays, and there are wonderful books available. What about having them read the stories, then come up with a holiday themed story of their own, which they could type and illustrate? The story can be shared at the dinner table when everyone is together and then saved for years to come. Another great activity is for elementary-age students to volunteer to share about the holidays in their classes at public school. Most teachers are very amenable to this and welcome the kids bringing a bit of their culture into the classroom. This is also the perfect age to really begin teaching our children what is meant by atoning for our sins and apologizing to others for our actions. We should teach this more by example than by lecture.
For those with teenagers: The 8th to 12th grade group of kids are a bit harder because the focus is not so much on finding ways for them to meaningfully celebrate, but, rather, making sure that they are able to juggle their busy secular lives in order to have time for a meaningful experience. School, for most, has just started and they are hesitant to miss it for the holidays. It is important that you advocate for your child, even at this older age, to make sure that they are not penalized at school for missing a day or two when the holidays fall on school days. Teachers understand and are usually willing to avoid tests and important instruction on those days, but sometimes they don’t even know, and it needs to be mentioned. At this age, which is my stage in life, I think it’s so important to show our kids that celebrating these very important holidays is a priority for us as well. How we can tell them they have to miss school or sports to go to temple when we, ourselves, attend meetings, have business phone calls and answer e-mails? We can – and should – “unplug” ourselves for the day – avoid the phone and the computer and the work that is calling our names – and just enjoy being together with our families and friends, spending time in shul and spending some time in careful thought and reflection about the new year ahead and the year we are leaving behind.
For those with children in college: I’m not there yet, but it no longer seems so far off in the future. College-bound kids leave for school around the same time as the High Holy Days. How can we help them celebrate when they are away from home, perhaps for the first time? You could send them a care package with “holiday essentials,” such as candles, Kiddush cup, challah cover, and any other mementos. Not only will it make them feel less like they are missing out on holidays at home, but it will give them a sense of something familiar as they get used to a new environment and will also give them a chance to receive mail, which is coveted when you first leave home for college! Another good idea would be to encourage them to find places in their new location to attend services – an on-campus Hillel or Chabad. All synagogues welcome students and do not usually charge for the tickets. They can also explore whether any of the local synagogues or on-campus groups are arranging for students to be invited to people’s homes for a holiday meal. Not only will attending services or going to someone’s house for dinner enable them to continue to keep their faith and traditions and celebrate the holidays, but it would also be a wonderful way for them to meet and connect with other Jewish people at the very beginning of the year. While they are off having new experiences, remember to keep on celebrating the holidays at home – even if it may be different with your kids away at school, it will make you feel better if you continue with your traditions.
No matter how old your children may be, there are many different ways to make the important Days of Awe meaningful for them and for yourself. I would like to wish all of the readers of OCJL a very happy New Year. May it be one of peace and health and success for all of us.