Isabelle didn’t want to get ready to go to bed tonight. Therefore, I infused music into her bedtime routine. My pick was the high holidays melody that’s traditionally sung at this time of year. I combined a niggun (wordless melody) with the words “L’shana tova tikatevu. A happy, new year. Happy new year to you.” (L’shana tova tikatevu means “may you be written down for a good year.” It’s typically how people greet one another on Rosh Hashanah.) Well, Isabelle took the word tikatevu as an invitation to tickle her own belly each time I said it. The first few times I told her, “It’s tikatevu, not tickletevu. It doesn’t mean you tickle yourself.” But after the fourth time I realized I was fighting a losing battle. So, I grabbed my iPhone, put it behind my back, and recorded me singing the song while she tickled herself as much as she could.
I picked up a whole wheat challah this afternoon. I prepared a chicken for dinner, which is roasting as I type. I pulled out the ritual items for tonight’s Shabbat dinner. As I did these things I remembered that Rosh Chodesh Elul is tomorrow night.
Elul, the month prior to the Jewish High Holidays, begins this weekend. That means that Rosh Hashanah will soon be upon us. This year, Isabelle is more aware of her Jewish life. By aware I mean that she anticipates the grape juice coming towards her in the Kiddush cup, enjoys eating challah, and enjoys watching videos by the Maccabeats. While it’s hard to cultivate a Jewish existence for a toddler, there are small ways that I will prepare for Yamim Noraim with her this year.
First, we will listen to to Tekiyah, the music of the high holidays from my former synagogue, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, in Manhattan. I have the album on my iPhone, which means we can listen to the inspiring melodies of the high holidays on-the-go when we’re in the car. While it’s far too early for her to learn the words or the meanings to the songs, I want her to hear the melodies of the songs that will be sung (though they’ll sound different in the synagogues we attend now) when we’re in synagogue as a family for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Second, we will read books. I have a bunch of books that contain shorts stories about the high holidays. I will begin to read those stories aloud to her during Elul. Also, we just received a book from the PJ Library, Today is the Birthday of the World by Linda Heller and Allison Jay, which I’m really excited to add to our Jewish home library. This book, which made me tear up the first time I read it, is an affirmation of the notion that every living thing contributes to making the world a more beautiful place. Today is the Birthday of the World‘s message is that even a small child can help make the world a better place. This is something I want Isabelle to internalize. Even at her young age she can help to brighten someone’s day with a smile or a simple “hello.” Additionally, as we prepare to begin a parent/child “school” program in the middle of Elul, I want to teach her that being kind to her classmates (by sharing toys and by being a gentle friend) is a way that you can honor yourself, other people, and G-d.
Finally, we eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize our hope for a sweet new year. Therefore, I will reintroduce these foods to her during Elul. Apples were a favorite until the bounty of summer kicked into high gear. Therefore, we replaced our apples and pears, our winter fruit staples, with blueberries, strawberries, and melons. Therefore, as we go through the month of Elul, we will again taste the sweetness of the apples (and the honey) so she’s ready to dip the apples into the honey on Rosh Hashanah.
How do you prepare for the high holidays with your children? Please share your customs, ideas, and book titles by leaving a comment.