May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Chol Hamoed at Home: Creating Memories

Say the words Chol Hamoed to any young child, and his eyes light up. Visions of trips to the zoo, amusement park rides, boat rides and other fun activities come to mind, as to him these are synonymous with the concept of Chol Hamoed. However, Chol Hamoed should really be more geared toward strengthening family ties.

This year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chol Hamoed trips as practiced in years gone by, will, like many other things, have to change. For one, many places are not open at all. Others are trying to practice social distancing, which means that fewer people will be admitted, and this means many disappointed youngsters. Imagine planning, preparing, packing up necessities, traveling and arriving at your destination only to be told: “Sorry, we filled our capacity for today. Come back some other time.”

It may seem ironic to some that this year, without a Shabbat Chol Hamoed, is the year that so many plans may go awry. With some minimal advance planning, your family can celebrate a meaningful, yet fun-filled, Chol Hamoed at or close to home.

Here are some ideas:

Buy a huge jigsaw puzzle. Select a picture that you would be proud to hang somewhere in your house, because that makes the work more exciting and satisfying. Make sure to prepare a few smaller, age-appropriate puzzles for the little ones, so that they can be part of your activity without actually getting in the way.

Food is one of life’s necessities. By its very nature, food preparation can be turned into an activity shared and enjoyed by everyone.

Prepare a salad bar with as many choices as possible. The older children can cut the vegetables while the younger ones set out the croutons and other toppings. Let them be creative in setting the table, experimenting with different ways to fold napkins and lay out flatware.

Let your children browse through your cookbooks and pick what they want to make. Now may be the right time to try that complicated recipe that you did not have the time or patience for. If one of your sons is named for any of the Ushpizin, surprise him with something special. Prepare a cookie dough and let the kids’ imagination run free as they use whatever they find in your cabinets to decorate their creations. Don’t forget to emphasize that clean-up is part of cooking and baking fun.

Don’t forget fun food. Bring out the popcorn popper and the slushy or cotton candy machine that’s gathering dust in the basement.

Or let the children experiment with ice cream in a bag. For each portion put a half cup of half and half, or mix heavy cream with milk, into a sandwich-size Ziploc bag. Add a few tablespoons of sugar and some vanilla extract. Seal the bag tightly, making sure to remove all excess air. Fill a gallon size Ziploc bag with ice and a few tablespoons of coarse or sea salt. Put the sealed smaller bag into the larger bag, and seal it. Shake it vigorously for about five minutes, until the cream becomes delicious ice cream. (Note: If it is too cold to handle, wrap the bag in a towel. Rinse the sandwich bag before opening. You don’t want salt to ruin your treat.)

When was the last time your children finished a whole game of Monopoly? Now would be the perfect time for that. If any of your offspring are budding chess players, enlist an adult relative to coach them in the finer points of the game. Surprise the kids with one or two new games, purchased in advance and well hidden. (It’s probably a lot cheaper than most Chol Hamoed trips.)

Chol Hamoed is the perfect time to take out the family photo albums. If the pictures are not labeled, let the children guess who is who. It’s amazing to note how family resemblances show up in photos. If you have slides or clips, now is the best time to show and enjoy them.

Let the children plan and perform a play. Give them free rein to gather costumes and props from all over the house. Then be an appreciative audience, with the requisite picture-taking, of course.

Plan a dance party. Put on lively dance music and let the children take turns being “instructor” and see who can come up with the zaniest steps. Or have them make up a dance to perform at an upcoming family wedding.

If the weather cooperates, try to plan an outdoor activity, such as a picnic in a local park. Have the children plan and pack the food, and the balls, jump ropes, Frisbees and other paraphernalia. For one of my favorite activities, buy a helium balloon for each child. At a set signal let all of them loose. What fun to watch them disappear!

As Hoshana Rabba dawns, you could look back on this as a “Chol Hamoed to Remember.” Gmar Chatima Tova.

By P. Samuels


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