Ten Ways to Make the High Holidays Meaningful

Dipping apples in honey, blowing the shofar, gathering together as a family — these parts of the High Holidays appeal to most children. But to only teach our children about the customs surrounding Rosh Hashanah is to give them just one part of the story. The more difficult aspect of the High Holiday message is the sin and repentance part.

We all have the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, and sometimes even adults make the wrong choice. The message of the High Holidays allows each of us to admit to our shortcomings. In so doing, we emerge refreshed, renewed — returned toward the path of righteousness.

Here are 10 tips on teaching your kids about sin and repentance:

1) Know what you believe


embarking on a discussion with your kids.

2) Only tell your kids what you believe

. If you believe God is a process rather than an all-powerful being, don’t tell the kids that God watches their every action. You might want to discuss different ways of interpreting God in order to present alternatives, but be sure to say, “This is what I believe.”

3) Don’t give children any more information than they can handle

, but, at the same time, do not underestimate their capacity to grasp intangible concepts. “No human being is too young for introspection,” Rabbi Amy Sheinerman said. “Even preschoolers can understand the idea of right and wrong. We begin to teach them the concepts inherent in the High Holiday message when we talk to them about how we treat others.”

4) Take part in a Tashlich service.

Tashlich means casting, as in casting off sins. On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews traditionally gather by the nearest moving body of water. Families bring leftover bread, torn into crumbs, to toss into the water at the appropriate moment. The act of throwing the bread into the water symbolically allows us to cast away our sins, and they are borne away by the flowing water so we can begin anew.

5) An easy family Tashlich activity:

Purchase some dissolving paper at a craft or magic store. As a family, write down things that each member — including the adults — wants to change or try to do better in the coming year. Bring the papers with you to Tashlich, and when the time comes to throw bread into the water, throw your papers into the water and watch the “sins” dissolve. Even if there is no Tashlich service in your community, you can go together as a family to a nearby stream or brook — make up your own service.

6) Observe the Ten Days of Repentance.

The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the time during which we think about our relationships with each other, and with God. We make the effort to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we resolve to try to do better in the coming year. Try to take some time on each of the days to do something Rosh Hashanah- or Yom Kippur-related. A little piece of trivia: the American tradition of making New Year’s resolutions for Jan. 1? It came from the Jewish tradition.

7) A family activity for the Ten Days of Repentance:

Send teshuvah-grams to each other — notes that ask individual members of the family for forgiveness about specific acts. An example: “Dear Sarah, I’m sorry I listened in on a telephone conversation you were having with your friend. I respect your need for privacy and I won’t listen again when you are on the phone. Love, Mom.”

8) Read some great Jewish books together.

See the accompanying recommendations and check out Rabbi Scheinerman’s Web site with its annotated Jewish book list: www.ezra.mts.jhu.edu/rabbiars.

9) Talk to your kids.

You can begin the topic of sin and repentance by telling them something you did that you feel badly about (like the teshuvah-gram). Admitting you aren’t perfect opens the door to allowing the child to own up to things about which he feels badly. These kinds of conversations will also set the precedent during the year for honest and open communication among members of the family.

10) Stay home from work, let the kids stay home from school

and go to services as a family. At the end of Yom Kippur, invite one or two other families to join you for a “break the fast” — you will create long-lasting memories for your children and for yourselves.

Ann Moline originally wrote this article for www.jewishfamily.com.