Although I enjoy summer, fall has always been my favorite season. As a child, it was a new school year, with new clothes, new books, and new opportunities. As an adult, there is still something so refreshing about the crisp smell of falling leaves and sense of renewal in the air. And as I get older, the sound of the shofar signaling Rosh Hashanah has become a more important piece of my fall experience.
That sense of renewal is something I enjoy sharing with my family. I recall lifting my children up when they were little so they could see the shofar being blown at services and explaining its importance to them. Mysterious, sweet, the shofar has always been a connection among our past, our present and our future. When my children were young, we bought them small shofarim that they would blow at family services. But for them, the sukkah was the experience they enjoyed the most. They viewed Rosh Hashanah as the best time for shofar blowing and brisket, and Sukkot as the time they enjoyed living like wanderers in their decorated huts. Now that my sons are older, they help build the sukkah at our synagogue and I enjoy watching them take their place in the Jewish community.
From the time my children were very young, our family would visit the local supermarket on a special grocery trip to buy for our High Holy Day food drive. My husband and I felt that impressing the need for tzedekah was an extremely important piece of building their Jewish identity. Our social action committee, together with our religious school children, would sort the food before it was picked up, making it easier for the food pantry to get it to hungry people. My children would come home each year sharing the exact number of bags of food donated by the congregation, happy to be part of such a wonderful, giving experience.
The earlier we begin these moments of personal Jewish engagement with our children, the luckier we all are. Sharing an experience that is both personal and community-wide is a gift we give our children. In preparation for the upcoming fall season, the URJ is sponsoring a free program that will give Chicago-area parents a chance to explore the High Holy Days with their children. The event will include face painting, candy apple decorating, crafts, and an opportunity to gather food from an urban farm, which will be donated to local food pantries and soup kitchens — teaching young children the meaning and significance of sharing our bounty.
How does your community or congregation make the High Holy Days meaningful for children? Post a comment and tell us what your family does to teach kids about tzedakah and other values!