For many Jewish families, fall not only signals a new season and a new school year, but it means observing some of the most meaningful and holy days of the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the beginning of the Jewish new year often with symbolic foods, family and friends, the sounding of the shofar (a ram’s horn that is blown throughout the holiday) and special prayers, while Yom Kippur is more solemnly known as the Day of Atonement. Together, they offer a time (specifically ten days between the start of Rosh Hashanah and the end of Yom Kippur) for reflection and introspection. It’s a time to wish one another a sweet new year ahead and make amends (both by forgiving and asking for forgiveness) for any mistakes made the year prior.
When is Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?
In 2023, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on September 15 (and lasts one or two days according to each family’s traditions), and Yom Kippur begins on the evening of September 24 (and ends at sundown the next day). Of course, like all Jewish holidays, they remain the same date on the Hebrew calendar, with Rosh Hashanah always beginning on the first day of Tishrei — which, despite Rosh Hashanah translating to “head of the year,” is actually the seventh month on the calendar.
How to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with kids
For many families, mine included, the holidays are 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 16 activities (meant to be done with our children) will do just that — while providing fun meaningful ways to celebrate the holidays.
Even if your family doesn’t observe Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, 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 able to explore the fall foliage (the holiday begins this year even before the official start of fall), take a trip to the market for these Rosh Hashanah staples — and for foods like carrots, pomegranates (a fruit often mentioned in Jewish texts) 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 Marion at My Jewish Mommy Life. (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. 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-shaped 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 loved ones 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
Expand your family’s coloring book collection with these downloadable Rosh Hashanah prints from Marni, the surface pattern designer behind Jewish Together. The new 2023 illustrations not only make for beautiful cards, but the set includes both an apple-themed page for children (and adults) to reflect on their resolutions for the upcoming year and one that prompts a discussion about gratitude — from A to Z. The 2022 and 2021 sets are also still available, as is this three-page download (free with newsletter subscription email sign-up) — complete with a menu planning page that can help get kids involved in the special holiday meal prep.
Where to buy: Rosh Hashanah Digital Coloring Book, 2023 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 during his first 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. Celebrate the earth with marble art
Celebrate the new year — and the symbolic birthday of the world in Jewish tradition — with this art project from With Love From Ima (also of the site With Love, Ima). To design their own beautifully unique version of the earth, children (and their grown-ups!) will need a piece of white paper (cut in a circle and placed in a box), paint and marbles (which will run across the paint and paper when the box is moved to and fro). Add a birthday party hat atop the painted circle for a festive touch and a heart in the middle to “symbolize love” — and reopen that discussion of how we can continue to care for our planet, ourselves and each other this Rosh Hashanah and beyond.
8. Craft bee-utiful handprints
Of course, there would be no honey on Rosh Hashanah without honeybees. Gather some cardstock, googly eyes, pink paint and a few traceable hands — and turn these bee handprint cards from The Best Ideas For Kids into Rosh Hashanah notes. (“Have a bee-utiful new year” kind of writes itself, right?!) These handprint bees can also be used as honeybee place cards on the Rosh Hashanah table or holiday decorations for the home.
9. 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!
10. Honor bees with this DIY hive
Everyone knows that bees are good for the earth — and so is recycling. This simple honeycomb craft from Aliza Fuhrman at MyJewishHomeSchool — made from cut-up paper towel rolls and the side of a cardboard box — is yet another way to reuse and repurpose household materials. This honeycomb replica (honeycomb actually lines a beehive) was made with spray paint and a hot glue gun (adults required!), but regular yellow paint and glue seem like another option. And, of course, the pompoms and felt bees are optional.
11. Fashion apples out of egg cartons
Don’t discard those egg cartons after preparing that delicious Rosh Hashanah meal. Instead, break them down and use them to make these adorable apple crafts from RachelsArtClub. Simply paint, glue two egg carton pieces together, polk a piece of a tree branch through the top and attach a green paper leaf. Pro tip from Rachel: Use hot glue to fasten the two egg carton pieces together (and let cool) before giving to younger kids to paint.
12. Design 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.
13. 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 — which, according to PJ Library, acts as a wake-up call when sounded). With some laminating sheets, tissue paper and downloadable holiday symbol stencils (found at the top of JewishPhoenix’s instructions creating Rosh Hashanah crafts), you can help kids make decorations they’ll be excited to display.
14. Snap some family photos in matching pajamas
Have the kids start the year with sweet dreams in a pair of Rosh HaShanah PJs, created by Rabbi Yael Buechler of Midrash Manicures. (Yes, she’s also the vision behind those adorable matza-print pajamas for Passover — and, yes, Rosh HaShanah, just like matzah, can be written in various ways.)
This new two-piece set, adorned with images of apples, honey and pomegranates, offers the perfect way to get little ones to wind down and tuck into bed after a festive Rosh Hashanah dinner. (Psst: They come in adult sizes, too, so get your cameras ready for a seriously cozy family photo.)
Where to buy: Rosh HaShanah Pajamas ($36, Midrash Manicures)
15. 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.
16. Find inspiration in a Rosh Hashanah activity kit
From hands-on projects to educational materials, these Rosh Hashanah boxes from Days United cover so many holiday bases. This year, there are three available boxes (all of which include a guide to celebrating and observing the holiday), so families can choose which best fits their interests and traditions.
The Taste of Honey box (complete with a guide to the Rosh Hashanah ceremonial dinner) will have families creating greetings in a jar and edible pixel art, coloring a nine-foot table runner and privately reflecting upon one’s actions with invisible ink. The New Beginning box guides families in dissolving their mistakes in water, as well creating emoji greeting cards and baking holiday honey cake in a honeycomb mold. The Blessings for a New Year Box also offers the activity to dissolve mistakes in water, along with 3D greeting cards, a table runner imprinted with blessings and Jewish holiday stickers to adorn any calendar. While the curated boxes take the planning and guesswork out of holiday activity prep, these items are also available on the site a la cart.
17. 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 reminders. Spread even more blessings for good health, joy, love and peace with these step-by-step instructions for creating shana tova tokens — another purposeful project from Make It Jewish that results in crafted coins bearing meaningful messages.
18. Teach the meaning of “I’m sorry”
These two small words encouraged on Yom Kippur pack a ton of meaning — and often take some prep work. For older children, that might mean participating in the ritual ceremony of tashlich (meaning “casting off”) that takes place on Rosh Hashanah and involves throwing pebbles into water to symbolically get rid of one’s wrongs committed during the past year. It also encourages participants to think about how others might feel and how to make amends — because in Judaism, it’s not just recognizing mistakes, but practicing teshuva (meaning return or, as PJ Library explains, “returning from doing wrong”) that’s important.
PJ Library offers some age-appropriate ways for kids to think about mistakes — all of which require understanding the true meaning of “I’m sorry,” a concept that can be introduced by modeling apologies and reading books about forgiveness, such as “The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story.” Families might also watch these two Shalom Sesame videos suggested by Reform Judaism (one about owning up to one’s mistakes and one explaining the word slicha, or “sorry”) because, well, nothing says kindness to kids like Elmo.
Where to buy: “The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story” ($8, Amazon)
19. Collect food for those in need
On Yom Kippur, it is customary to fast — and to wish others an easy and meaningful one. 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. Children, of course, don’t fast, but by having them help gather non-perishable food for those in need, they can learn the Jewish values of tzedakah, tikkun olam and plain old kindness. What better way than this to begin a new year with kids!
Celebrating from home this year? Some families may opt to continue streaming Rosh Hashanah services, which many reform and conservative synagogues began doing during the COVID-19 pandemic and have now continued to offer in addition to in-person services.