Teaching the true meaning of the High Holidays

high holiday booksWe are currently celebrating the 10 days of awe that separate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Technically, Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, but that doesn’t mean much to a child or to a non-Jewish person. Together, these two days are the time that we are most encouraged to look inward about how we have behaved towards God and towards our fellow man during the past year. We are asked to consider what we have done that was good and what was not so good and we are supposed to figure out ways to be better in the coming year.

Understandably, the best way for children to comprehend these heady topics is for them to be in story format. The following are some of our favorites that focus on the different facets of the holidays.

engineer ariEngineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride – In this story, Ari has been chosen to engineer the first train from Jaffa to Jerusalem. In his excitement, he is very boastful towards his fellow engineers and then forgets to even say goodbye to them. As he travels through Israel picking up Rosh Hashanah treats for the children of Jerusalem, things that he sees remind him of his friends and he starts to think of how he acted towards them. By the time that he gets to Jerusalem he knows what he has to do:

“On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we apologize for our mistakes. We do teshuvah. Teshuvah means turning ourselves around and promising to do better.”

What is nice about this book is that it covers the symbols of Rosh Hashanah while also driving home a huge point about making amends for our actions and promising to do better in the new year. This is always a favorite among the kids.

birthday of the worldToday is the Birthday of the World – Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and the time that we are reminded of the birth of the world. The days of awe call for teshuva (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteous acts). Within this beautiful story, children are able to visualize the beauty of  “price-less” gift giving – we can all celebrate the birthday of the world by giving back to the earth. Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is a very important part of Jewish culture and children can see that each animal plays its part and that every human can do their part as well, from planting a garden to sharing their toys. This book is also a great way to start a conversation about recycling, cleaning up trash and generally making the world a better place to live in.

daliaHow Dalia Put a Big Yellow Comforter Inside a Tiny Blue Box – In keeping with the theme of tzedakah, this book is a wonderful way to show children the value of tzedakah. Every Jewish child learns about tzedakah boxes and is encouraged to collect their pennies and other small change to give to those in need. The impact of this task, however, is difficult for many children to comprehend. Small change doesn’t seem to add up to much, and how will it make a difference to others? In this story, a young girl collects her coins and when her brother asks what is in the box, she jokes with him by telling him that it is a yellow comforter. When she adds more money, she tells him that now it is a yellow comforter plus a butterfly bush. He can’t understand what is going on and she finally brings him with her to Sunday school on the day that her class will take all of the money that they have raised to purchase items and bring them to an old, lonely woman. The young boy learns that small acts add up and that the biggest gift they were able to give the woman was the gift of their company.

rude vegetablesTalia and the Rude Vegetables – In this sweet story, when young Talia’s grandmother asks her to pick root vegetables for their Rosh Hashanah stew, Talia misunderstands thinking that she asked for rude vegetables.  When she wonders what a rude vegetable could be, she remembers being bossy to her brother and rude to her parents. With Rosh Hashanah coming up, she realizes that she needs to ask for their forgiveness. She then gets down to the business at hand. She starts digging up vegetables, but when they look beautiful, she figures that they are not what her grandmother is looking for, so she puts them in a separate basket. When the onion is ornery and won’t come out of the ground, into the rude basket it goes. Same with the crooked carrot who mush have pushed and shoved his brothers. She winds up gathering two full baskets of vegetables – one rude and one lovely. Not wanting the lovely vegetables to go to waste, she brings them to her rabbi who then distributes them to needy families. Her silly mistake made for a beautiful Rosh Hashanah mitzvah.

zizThe Hardest Word – This story tells the tale of a mythical creature called the Ziz. He is a giant flying bird creature who happens to be something of a klutz. When flying through the air, he sometimes knocks into objects that have repercussions when they fall down to earth. He always tries to fix the problems before anyone notices, but one day he does some damage that he can’t figure out how to repair. The Ziz can’t figure it out on his own, so he goes to Mt. Sinai to have a talk with God. God tells him that he needs to search for “the hardest word.” He brings back a number of words and God keeps telling him that while the word might be hard to hear or hard for a child to say, it isn’t the hardest word. After bringing God more than 100 words, he hangs his head and tells God that he is sorry, but that he can’t find the hardest word. In that one instance, God tells him that he has finally found it – “sorry” is the hardest word. This really focuses on the truth behind teshuva – actually going up to the person that you have wronged and apologizing is a very difficult thing to do. The Mishnah says “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” We must do the hardest act and actually apologize to those that we have wronged. They may or may not accept that apology, but it is the only way to clear your soul. In a culture where we are so used to saying a blanket sorry for everything, it is good for children to learn that there is so much more to it.


Leave a Reply