The High Holy Days are a time for families to come together. But you might be wondering how to make these holidays fun for your kids, or for those new to Judaism. 18Doors has a printable Guide to the High Holy Days with Kids. The following section of this guide offers a few key ideas and suggestions. If you’re short on time, you might also enjoy “Six Tips for Interfaith Families Facing the High Holy Days.”
Parents today face several basic questions regarding how to involve their kids in the High Holy Days. Some of these questions are:
1) Should the kids skip school in observance of these holidays, and if yes, how much school should they skip?
Most Jews who are observing the holidays, though not all, have their kids skip school on the first full day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. One guideline some families use is that if a parent is taking off work in observance of a Jewish holiday, then the kids take off from school too. It’s a tricky time because the school year has just started.
If you are planning to have kids skip school for the holiday, it’s a good idea to let their teachers know in advance. Ultimately, your family has to weigh its own unique values and circumstances to decide whether or not to have kids miss some school. In most liberal synagogues, there will be some families whose kids aren’t missing school, some whose kids are, and some who have different kids doing different things.
2) What about going to services at a synagogue? If the adults are going to some or all of the services, should the kids come too?
It’s a good idea for parents to talk in advance of the High Holy Days about which religious services they are planning to attend, and to which ones they’re planning to bring kids. Some congregations offer childcare, but sometimes you have to sign up in advance to get a space. Asking people who are familiar with the synagogue you’re considering attending for their impressions about how kid-friendly the scene is can be really valuable. If you’re new to the congregation, calling and asking the receptionist for help thinking this through can also be really helpful. If the synagogue offers special Kids’ Services aimed at your kids’ age groups, these services can be a surprisingly rewarding experience for kids and parents too.
3) If we do bring the kids to services, what kinds of quiet activities can they do if they get bored?
If you’re planning to have the kids join you for some of the longer prayer services, it’s a good idea to plan ahead for what you’ll do if they start to get “wiggly.” In two-parent households, some parents decide beforehand whether one parent will be the one to leave early with the kids if the kids are starting to come unglued.
This is a parenting decision that is highly personal. Some parents feel that there’s a value for kids to cultivate patience and have respect for religious services that may be geared for adults. Other parents don’t want to give their kids an experience of Judaism as an “endurance test,” and instead they tend to focus on having their kids attend children’s services or engage in other non-synagogue-based activities connected to the High Holy Days (see our section called “Fun and Meaningful Activities”)
4) What about the tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur and our kids?
Traditional Jewish teaching is that girls younger than 12 and boys younger than 13 have no religious obligation to try to fast on Yom Kippur. Tradition also stresses that no one should attempt to fast if it will endanger their health, so pregnant women and people with a variety of medical situations are urged not to fast. In the liberal parts of the Jewish community, some adults attempt to fast for the duration of Yom Kippur, and some do some kind of modified or partial fast. Some don’t fast but still participate in the holiday.
Just as there’s a lot of variation in practice among adults, there’s a lot of variation among how parents guide their kids regarding fasting. And kids’ attitudes will vary. Some kids want to try fasting, others don’t. Once again, these are personal and private family decisions for parents to make, and generally people in liberal synagogues aren’t looking to question or judge the decisions families make.
There are all kinds of reasons why a day of fasting can create unique challenges for some families. If a family member is struggling with an eating disorder, for example, Yom Kippur can intensify those anxieties. One important tip: if you or your child is not fasting, the polite thing to do if one of you is going to have something to eat or drink is not to do that at the synagogue.