Beyond apples & honey

Teaching our children about the meaning behind the High Holy Days

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For many Jewish people, the Hebrew month of Elul is a time of introspection, transition, and anticipation for the Jewish New Year. Because Elul and the High Holy Days coincide with the beginning of a new school year, this time can serve as a valuable guide for young people and their families. But parents of preschool-age children often wonder what their little ones can reasonably absorb and understand about the themes of the High Holy Days. How do we engage kids in authentic, prayerful moments while still keeping the experience meaningful for ourselves? Below are a few lessons from the Chagim --holidays--to take with you as a parents in the coming year.

Tekiyah! Sometimes noise is necessary 

Throughout Elul, many Jewish people gather each day to hear the sound of the shofar--the blowing of a ram's horn which intends to wake us from our spiritual slumbers and force us to focus on this critical time in our Jewish year. Young children don't tend to need alarm clocks, but they do often need support to ground themselves in space and time. Help them prepare for upcoming changes in their routine by giving them tangible cues in advance. Make a new playlist for your commute to school! Celebrate small victories with a dance party! Creating joyful associations with change can ease the growing pains that often accompany times of transition. 

Sticky & sweet - On Rosh Hashanah, we are reminded that learning is messy

Young children naturally explore the world through sensory input, so support your child's learning by giving them authentic experiences that respond to their interests and engage their senses. In this month of Elul, consider ways you can introduce Jewish values to your children through concepts they may already be familiar with through experiences that are embodied and tactile. Visit neighbors, send get-well cards to a sick friend, or make your own confetti to celebrate a family milestone. Teach the Shehecheyanu --the blessing for celebrating new or rare experiences--and then find a ripe pomegranate and let children figure out how to get to the seeds!

Al Chet - We all make mistakes

Children are always looking to the adults in their lives for cues about cultural norms and appropriate reactions to new experiences. When we model openness to imperfection, and allow our children to see our own flaws and complicated feelings, we teach them that it is possible to be successful even if we don't get everything right. In the lead up to Yom Kippur , take a walk and share with your children a moment you wish you had handled differently. Spend time stacking blocks until they fall down, and celebrate the opportunity to rebuild! As a family, talk about your hopes and goals for the coming year.

Roll it back and start over 

It is important to remember our job as parents is not to fill our children with facts, but to set them on the path and give them the tools to acquire knowledge themselves. Each year when we come to the end of the Torah, we open it right back up and begin again, certain that there are new lessons to be learned.

Take a moment to consider the ideal High Holy Day experience for your child, for yourself, and for your family as a whole. Know that this time of year will come again, and there will be many more opportunities for learning. Then, go out into the world with your children and find new ways to be amazed by the same old things. Shana Tovah! 

For resources and support in bringing the High Holidays to life for your children, check out the offerings from PJ Library or connect with a parent ambassador through jBaby Chicago! 


Rachel Mylan has worked with children and young families at JUF and in a variety of other Jewish settings. She currently serves as the Director of Early and Elementary Family Life at Mishkan Chicago. 


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