This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on September 6, and Yom Kippur begins at sunset on September 15. Once again, our traditions may look a bit different than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic (smaller family gatherings, virtual services, an even greater urgency for collective healing), but that doesn’t mean that celebrating with kids in fun and meaningful ways has to take a backseat.
For many families, mine included, the holidays were always about passing along Jewish culture and traditions — especially the importance of mishpucha (family) and tikkun olam (repairing the world) — in ways that kids (and adults) understand and enjoy. From homemade apple-themed crafts to special kindness reminders, these 12 activities (meant to be done with our children) will do just that.
Even if your family doesn’t observe Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), or Yom Kippur (known as the Day of Atonement), you’ll find that many of these ideas can be used to usher in the fall season. They can help us connect and reflect with our children as the school year begins. Some can even spread some much-needed love in our communities.
Shana tova, a good year, to all.
1. Explore the fruits of the season
Rosh Hashanah has always been synonymous with apples and honey (dipping slices to symbolize a sweet new year), so plan a visit to an apple orchard to get kids into the holiday spirit. If you’re not ready to explore the fall foliage (Rosh Hashanah is early this year!), take a (masked) trip to the market for these staples — and for foods like carrots, pomegranates and dates. Not only do they have symbolic significance, but they’re a great way to introduce new foods to kiddos. They can also help make for a pretty beautiful edible arrangement, a la MyJewishMommyLife. (Note: Babies younger than 12 months should not be given honey.)
2. Take the holiday outside
Step into nature and sing “Happy Birthday” to the world! Even if you don’t take that concept literally, it’s a good way to explain the start of a new year to children. It also helps explain the importance of celebrating the earth and wanting to help make all aspects of the world a better place. This year especially, consider dining outside in the backyard or hosting a small family picnic. You can even incorporate Rosh Hashanah imagery (such as something round to symbolize the cycle of life and seasons) into an outdoor game of I Spy.
3. Adorn a family tree with hopes for the new year
Engage kids in holiday meal prep by having them help make thoughtful table decorations. Follow these step-by-step tree-crafting instructions from Little Miss Party to create construction paper apple name cards for friends and family members, as well as a tree centerpiece using a small branch. Then wait for dinnertime to ask everyone to write (or dictate) a meaningful new year wish on the back of the apples before hanging them on the tree. You can even make extra apples for family members who aren’t able to join or who are no longer with you — and, voila!, you’ve created your own family tree.
4. Reflect with coloring
Swap out the usual cartoon character coloring books with these downloadable Rosh Hashanah prints from Jewish Together’s Etsy shop. The new 2021 illustrations make for beautiful cards, and I especially love the design that prompts kids to think about how they want to fill in the pages of the new year.
Where to buy: Rosh Hashanah Coloring Book, 2021 Set ($5, Jewish Together/Etsy)
5. Use apples to create art
A is for apple — and for art. At least that is what my toddler learned last year in preschool when he dipped cut apples into red paint to make this picture. Adults can cut apples into all different shapes and sizes, or stick to slicing the apple vertically for a clear pattern. Cutting the apple in half horizontally will create a star shape inside the apple. (See below.) Kids can even display their art as a placemat on the holiday table!
6. Send sweet DIY cards
Turn those apple prints into greetings by following these simple card-printing steps from PJ Library (a program that provides online resources for Jewish learning and sends free Jewish-themed books to families who sign up). Children can also create Rosh Hashanah imagery using a wine cork as an apple stamp (illustrated on the Make It Jewish blog) or bubble wrap to create a honeycomb (found on AlphaMom’s site). Adorn with messages and send to family and friends — or drop them off at a Jewish senior center to spread new year cheer.
7. Turn plastic bottles into gift boxes
Looking for crafts that are fun to give and are good for the environment? Grab your recyclable plastic bottles (you’ll need at least two with bottoms that look like apples) and head on over to Creative Jewish Mom for instructions on how to turn what would have been trash into an apple-shaped gift box that you can fill with sweet treats. Even if children are too young to help put these together, they will love to receive them!
8. Make an apple and honey necklace good enough to eat
Make matching holiday attire with these adorable apple and honey cereal necklaces. You’ll need a red paper plate, a handful of honey cereal Os, some typical crafting materials and the DIY instructions from Our Happy Tribe. I love how this necklace-making activity helps kids practice their scissor use (with adult supervision) and fine motor skills (while stringing their cereal). Just be sure to provide kids with extra Os to eat while crafting, as you may feel inspired by the other Rosh Hashanah activities on the site.
9. Create colorful stained glass symbols
Let the light shine in for the new year — and make a beautiful rainbow with stained glass art in the shapes of the season (think: apples, pomegranates, a honey jar and shofar). With some laminating sheets, tissue paper and holiday symbol stencils (found at the bottom of Jew PHX’s instructional blog post), you can help kids make decorations they’ll be excited to display.
10. Make your own honey ice cream — in a bag
Ice cream? In a bag? Yep. This 15-minute ice cream recipe from With Love, Ima will get kids of all ages into the kitchen. Older kids and teens might be able to help perfect a traditional round challah (a la Jewish Family Magic’s Instagram tutorial) — but kids of all ages can easily get cooking with this treat, which is perfect as an impromptu sweet or as an end to a holiday feast. Simply mix ingredients in a ziploc bag, place that ziploc bag in another filled with ice and salt — and have kids shake it up! Extra honey and dance party are optional.
11. Paint “love rocks” as kindness reminders
While Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the new year, Yom Kippur is a day for asking for forgiveness and forgiving others. It is also a day that reminds us to “think of love and be kind” in the new year — and that’s exactly what this beautiful love rocks activity from Make It Jewish will do. Grab some rocks, paint, a paintbrush — and make and exchange these heartfelt tokens.
12. Collect food for those in need
On Yom Kippur, it is customary to wish others an easy and meaningful fast. Growing up, our reform synagogue encouraged the meaningful part by collecting food for a local food pantry, with the idea being that congregants would donate whatever they were not eating that day to others. (Check this year for any additional COVID-related guidelines.) Children, of course, don’t fast, but by having them help gather non-perishable food for those in need, you can teach them the Jewish values of tzedakah, tikkun olam and plain old kindness. What better way than this to begin a new year with kids!