New Rituals for Children During the High Holy Days

By Rabbi Jodi Seewald Smith

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the perfect times to establish family traditions. At The Rashi School, we challenge our kindergarten through eighth grade students to imagine how they can commemorate these holidays in a way that is distinctive to their families.

We teach that Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel, said that it is our duty to make the old new, and the new holy. At Rashi, we consistently do this by seeking holiness in ancient customs. We want students to see themselves in the stories, prayers and rituals of our people. We want their lives to have added meaning because they know that they are a part of a sacred tradition.

This year, on Rosh Hashanah, in addition to attending services, eating apples and honey, hearing the shofar, sending cards and eating a round challah, find something that will make this holiday deeply matter on a personal level. Consider one of the following to add meaning to your family’s celebration:

  1. Commit yourself to a year where you not only utter words (think of all those words we say during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), but you and your family engage in action. Have each member of your family write a letter to a government official expressing their hopes for the upcoming year.
  2. The New Year is a time to try new things, not to let complacency or past failures keep us from growing and learning. There is a custom on the second night of Rosh Hashanah to eat a new fruit, one you haven’t recently eaten. Pick an unusual fruit; think starfruit, jackfruit or horned melon. Before you say the traditional Shehecheyanu blessing, have everyone share something new they want to experience this year.
  3. Create a family blessing journal. The Talmud teaches that we are to say 100 blessings every day, and scientific research finds that those who are living actively grateful lives are more fulfilled. On the afternoon before Rosh Hashanah, have each member of your family write down something they are thankful for. Do this in writing or orally every day through the next 10 days until Yom Kippur. During the afternoon of Yom Kippur, look through the journal and talk about the entries and how they relate to the year ahead.
  4. Find prayers and texts that speak to you and share them with your family and friends. In my home, I’m going to share this poem by my friend, Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler, rabbi of Temple Sinai in Sharon:

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

That this year people will live and die,
some more gently than others
and nothing lives forever.
But amidst overwhelming forces
of nature and humankind,
we still write our own Book of Life,
and our actions are the words in it,
and the stages of our lives are the chapters,
and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.
Every deed counts.
Everything you do matters.
And we never know what act or word
will leave an impression or tip the scale.
So, if not now, then when?
For the things that we can change, there is t’shuvah, realignment,
For the things we cannot change, there is t’filah, prayer,
For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.
Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life
for the Holy One to read.

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