Simple Ideas to Bring the High Holidays to Life


The High Holidays heighten our senses with the sounds of boisterous family dinners and the blasts of the shofar ringing in the air, the taste of sticky honey dripping from sweet apples, and the feeling of warmth from glowing candles.

We bring in the Jewish New Year with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah on Tishrei 1 and 2 (the first month in the Hebrew calendar), moving from one year to the next with optimism and hope. Ten days later, we observe Yom Kippur, focusing on forgiveness for actions we regret so that we can start off the new year feeling fresh and renewed. 

Here are ideas to spark your grandchild’s curiosity about the holidays. Choose or adapt the activities according to the age of your grandchild. For example, if young children cannot yet draw or write, you can do that for them, or give them a magazine and cut and paste pictures together. Almost all of the activities can be modified if you are at a distance on Zoom, FaceTime, or What’sApp.

Click HERE to download a free High Holidays Discovery Kit.

On Rosh Hashanah, we loudly sound the shofar to welcome the new year and to call us to attention as we reflect on our actions over the previous year.

The shofar, an instrument made from a ram’s horn, is sounded using different sequences of blast sounds: one long blast, t’kiyah; three consecutive blasts, shevarim; and nine short blasts, teruah). Here is a way you can playfully explore the sounds of the shofar with your grandchild.

Move to the shofar.
Learn the three different sounds of the shofar: t’kiyah, shevarim, and teruah. Again, t’kiyah is one long blast, shevarim is three consecutive blasts, and teruah is nine quick blasts. Visit My Jewish Learning to hear the sounds of the shofar.

Use a cardboard tube as a shofar and blow each of these sounds through the tube. Take turns: grandparent says a shofar sound and grandchild blows that number of blasts. Then switch.

Now, explore the three sounds with movement. Try using the shofar blast sequence (1, 3, and 9) as a memory game using steps, jumps, or spins. Once you remember the Hebrew names of the number of blasts, try calling out the name and see if your grandchild can make the corresponding movements. (You call out “teruah jumps” and your grandchild can take nine jumps, call out “shevarim spins” and your grandchild can spin three times).

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. As we say goodbye to the year that has just past, we hope for a sweet new year ahead.

On Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to eat apples or round challah dipped in honey (which is often a child’s favorite part of the holiday tradition). This ritual symbolizes the hope we have for a sweet new year. Imagine and visualize what a sweet new year looks like using this activity with your grandchild.

Visualize a sweet new year.
Together, consider these questions: What does a “sweet” New Year mean to you? How can you be sweet to your friends, family, and community this year? Just as a bee travels from flower to flower to collect nectar and make sweet honey, how can you spread sweetness wherever you go in the world?

Draw two intersecting lines on a page, dividing the page into four quadrants. Label each quadrant with a place you spend time (home, school, playground, family member’s house, stores, the beach).

In each square, write or draw a way you can be sweet this year in each of those places. For example, under Home, you might write or draw, “spend more time playing with _____ [dog’s name]”; for Playground, you might add “pick up litter” or “let my friend go first in a game”; in Store, “thank the shopkeeper.”

We also let go of the past by reflecting on our mistakes and leaving them behind, committing to doing better in the year ahead.

Tashlich (literally, “cast away” in Hebrew) is a ritual done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah at a body of moving water, in which we traditionally throw bread crumbs to represent sending our mistakes away.

Here’s an alternative tashlich ritual to do with your grandchild using stones at a pond, lake, or the ocean — or in a sink or bath tub.

Do skipping stone tashlich.
Collect pebbles or stones, and pretend each one is something you did this year that you’d like to change. Imagine that these actions are “weighing you down” like a heavy stone. With older children, you can each think about a few things you’ve done that the stones might represent and share with each other (A time when you didn’t include another child who wanted to play with you and your friends, or a time when you cheated to win while playing a game with a sibling).

When you are ready, throw the stones into a body of water, and watch the ripples that move in the water where the stone falls in. Discuss how these ripples represent the ways that our actions ripple out into the world, impacting the people around us. You can ask: How do your actions ripple out and impact others? What actions can you take this year to make positive change in your family and your community?

As we celebrate the birthday of the world, we think about how we can help our planet and our community in the year to come.

Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world symbolically, commemorating the anniversary of creation. Celebrate this occasion by making positive change in your community.

Give the world birthday gifts.
Here are some ideas for projects you and your grandchild can do together:

Share with others: Choose a toy to lend to a friend, and surprise them by offering it to them to take home forever. Make an activity out of going through gently used books and toys, and donate them to a local shelter.

Show gratitude to helpers: Create a thank you picture or card and deliver it to a librarian, firehouse, or police station. You can visit these places together, and your grandchild can see how a thoughtful gesture can brighten someone else’s day. Offer a snack or drink to your postal carrier or Amazon, UPS, or Instacart deliverer. You can even set out a basket of snacks and drinks and they can choose what they want.

Take care of the planet: Take a recycling bag and collect litter at a local park, playground, or the beach. What might other people do when they see you? Talk about how we are all citizens of planet earth.

Whether you make each other laugh while moving to the shofar, or find meaning exploring tashlich together, the High Holidays can be a time of both joy and reflection for you and your grandchild. Together, you can think about the year past, look to the year ahead, and create memories together today through creativity and discovery.

Jonathan Shmidt Chapman is the founder of The K’ilu Company, creating projects that activate Jewish early childhood education through theater and imaginative play. He is the creator of  K’ilu Kits — interactive audio adventures that bring Jewish holiday stories to life — and Play-Along Parsha — a resource for 3-to-6-year-olds and their families to creatively engage with the weekly Torah portion. Jonathan was previously the Producer of Family Programming at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Photographic Credits
Banner photograph of child with shofar courtesy of Pixabay 

Rosh Hashanah dinner photograph by Benjamin Hansen
Child dancing photograph courtesy of Unsplash
All other photographs by Stephanie Fink