In many ways, Judaism is a child-friendly religion.Consider the holidays. Chanukah has presents, donuts and chocolate coins. Purim has costumes and hamantaschen. Pesach has the four questions, ten plagues, and the rest of the grandeur of the seder. Shavuot has cheese cake and ice cream. Sukkot has the lulav, etrog, and the opportunity to camp out every night. And then there is Rosh Hashanah.
Well, you do have the shofar. However, in every shul I have ever been in, the children are hustled in and hushed. They hear the blasts of Tekiah, Shevurim, Teruah, etc. and then are whisked back out of the sanctuary. In and out; it’s like a celebrity going on a secret shopping trip.
Then you have the apples and the honey. Full disclosure—I did not like apples or honey when I was a young child. Putting that aside, are you going to build a whole holiday out of a wedge of fruit and Winnie the Pooh’s favorite food?
Of course, there is the obligatory greeting of Shanah Tova. It’s very nice and cordial to wish everyone a sweet new year. I get it. Fine. This is about as thrilling for a child as an hour-long sermon.
I’m betting that when Richard Dawson called out on Family Feud, “100 Jewish children were surveyed: They said their favorite Jewish holiday was…” Rosh Hashanah would come out near the bottom of the survey.
I’ll be honest—it is that time of year, you know. Rosh Hashanah is not my favorite holiday either. And it’s not because there are no presents, cheesecake, or camping out. I’m afraid of Rosh Hashanah. Heck, they don’t call it the days of awe for nothing. Hashem is judging us—reviewing the ledger so to speak. He then gives us ten days to repent. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of repenting to do. I’ll spare you the details. Just trust me.
So, the kids are not being overwhelmed by sweets or interesting rituals. Instead, they are being judged. How do we convey the importance of Rosh Hashanah to our children without scaring the heck out of them?
I’m not here to answer that question for you. Every parent/family can make that decision for themselves. However, I do advocate that children, no matter how young, be especially aware of their behavior. They can consider things they have done in the past that maybe they should not have. Mostly, children can think about what they can do to be better in the future.
And that is how I deal with the holiday as well. After considering where I have gone astray, the question for me is, what can I do to be a better person in the coming year than I was in the previous one? What will I commit to or take on? Striving to change one’s self is not a simple task in any way. In fact, it can be overwhelming.
While I still believe Rosh Hashanah does not offer much in the way of child friendly foods or activities, it offers something else. Children and adults alike have the opportunity and incentive to become better people.
Larry Bernstein is a free-lance writer, teacher, and tutor. He and his family live in Bergen County. You can find his website at larrydbernstein.com His blog address is memyselfandkids.com
By Larry Bernstein