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Sometimes, I surprise even myself. This morning, after I dropped off the kids at school, I asked my virtual best friend, Siri, when Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holidays, was. Imagine my shock and surprise when Siri politely informed me that they start this week. Which would make sense because at Sunday School this past weekend, we started learning some of the High Holidays’ songs.
Also, allow me to publicly apologize to my mother who, I’m sure as she’s reading this, is more than slightly disappointed and embarrassed that I didn’t remember when the High Holidays were starting. Sorry, Mom.
The Jewish High Holidays represent my favorite time of the year. The High Holidays (or High Holy Days, if you prefer) consist of two autumnal holidays: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means the head of the year, being the beginning of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur means the Day of Atonement, which is an incredibly solemn day where we can, among other things, atone for our transgressions and ask for forgiveness. This guide from Interfaith Family helps to provide a great summary of the High Holidays if you’re interested in learning more (and there’s no sense in me reinventing the wheel!).
They can be pretty heady and heavy days, and as I’ve gotten older, the High Holidays have become more and more meaningful to me. These 10 days provide me with a chance to step outside of my normal routine and reflect on where I am in my personal spiritual journey. When have I been the best me I can be? Where have I slipped from the path? From whom should I ask forgiveness? To whom can I extend a little more forgiveness, a little more grace?
And these High Holidays and the 10 Days of Awe in-between also give me a great chance to reflect on how I am as a parent. Where has my heart been too hard? Where have I been too lenient with boundaries? What opportunities allow me to be a better role model for my children?
One of the ways in which I can be a better role model for my children when it comes to the High Holidays is making sure that I explain and convey the solemnity and magnitude in an age-appropriate way to my children. After all, I want them to understand and appreciate these holidays rather than watch their eyes glaze over! While our congregation and Sunday School classes help to teach my children about the High Holidays, the onus is on me to help guide them and teach them why the High Holidays are important to us as a family. One of the tools in my parenting toolbox that I’ve often turned to is books!
Books can provide a great way to help tell stories, teach important lessons, and most importantly for our family with young children, inspire questions that can lead to great and meaningful conversations and dialogue… which is not as hard as one might think with a kindergartner (where everything feels like a question or seven billion). Here, I’ve found and rounded up five wonderful books about the Jewish High Holidays that can help explain, teach, and provide jumping off points for our family… and hopefully yours!
5 Wonderful Jewish High Holidays Books for Kids
- What a Way to Start a New Year! A Rosh Hashanah Story. There are a few simple staples that Dina wants to start the New Year. Instead, she’s getting something totally different than what she bargained for! However, her dad helps to arrange for their family to meet someone at a nearby synagogue, and the New Year just gets better and better. This story is illustrated beautifully and colorfully and tells the tale of an interfaith family who can learn a little bit about life and its changes by embracing the new and bold.
- Sammy Spider’s First Rosh Hashanah. As a spider in the Shapiro household, Sammy gets to observe and learn so many new things, including some of the traditions of Rosh Hashanah! Eager to learn and covered in honey, Sammy explores some of the fun traditions about Rosh Hashanah and what helps to make the beginning of the High Holidays special. If you and your family love this book and its colorful illustrations, you’re in luck! Sammy Spider’s First Yom Kippur is also available!
- Yom Kippur Shortstop. In a story that hearkens back to Sandy Koufax, young Jacob is faced with a challenge: does he attend and participate in the final game of his baseball season or does he attend and observe Yom Kippur… which happens to be on the same day! Jacob’s story is relatable for so many American Jewish families today who are trying to navigate and balance the Jewish holidays and their families’ secular commitments. Through the story, Jacob realizes that he’s part of many different teams: baseball, his family, his congregation… which one do you think he’ll choose?
- The Hardest Word. The Ziz is a huge, enormous, gigantic, clumsy bird who means well. One day, he accidentally destroys a children’s vegetable garden, and he asks for guidance on what he should do. In doing so, he learns that sometimes, the hardest word to say is sorry (this is a really hard lesson to teach and learn… especially when we’re trying to teach our kids to be authentic with their apologies!).
- Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: With Honey, Prayers, and the Shofar. One of the most important and impactful things about the High Holidays for me is that it really gives me a sense of community. All over the world, Jews will come together in their communities to celebrate these awesome and holy days together. And in doing so, I think it’s also a really great teaching opportunity to show my children that Jews celebrate the High Holidays differently. This book is a wonderful introduction to the High Holidays with a diverse look at how they are welcomed and celebrated the world over. The vibrant pictures help tell the stories for young children, and the explanations are great for older children who may want a deeper understanding.
For more information and recommendations on books about the Jewish High Holidays – or Jewish holidays, traditions, customs in general! – PJ Library is a great resource.
Fortunately, there are plenty of books to choose from to help celebrate the Jewish High Holidays! Did I leave one of your favorites off the list? Tell me about it in the comments below!