Schools holidays explained: What your Jewish friends are doing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

SEPTEMBER 13, 2015 By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

While I did shed the proverbial tears on each of my children’s first days of kindergarten, I’ve now moved on to being pretty ecstatic on the Tuesday after Labor Day when they each go back to their regular school routine. It means my mornings no longer involve figuring out who’s going to which camp and how many towels and swimsuits need to be packed.

Once that magical day arrives, everyone will ostensibly leave the house and return to the house, with backpacks in tow, at the same time five days a week, and I’ll trade the joys of mid-summer for the ease of routine.

But just when we parents and kids have all settled into a groove — those days come. You know the ones — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. If you’re in a school district that closes for those holidays it has a way of throwing everyone’s back to school schedule into temporary chaos.

As a Jewish mom and educator, I am incredibly grateful that my children’s schools are closed for the Jewish High Holidays — even if it means a disruption in routine. I grew up in an area with very few Jewish families and we were happy if someone could pronounce Rosh Hashanah.

So, if you’re in such a district, work outside of the home and aren’t Jewish, I get that it must be annoying to have to take off work or find childcare just as you got everyone settled into school. But if you are home with your kids on those days, you could do some fun learning together about what the Jewish holidays are all about. So many non-Jewish people know about Hanukkah because it falls in December around Christmas, but Hanukkah is actually a relatively minor Jewish holiday, while Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are among the most important days in the Jewish calendar.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Read some books about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: PJ Library is a really cool program that sends books to families raising Jewish children. All of their titles are available for to order on Amazon or you can look at your local library for them.
  • Visit a synagogue: Most congregations have special services for young and elementary age children, and many are open to the public. Visit the jkidphilly calendar to find a service near you. It will be an interesting cultural experience to hear Hebrew prayers and find out what happens inside a synagogue. (You can come visit me leading children’s services at Mishkan Shalom — everyone welcome!)
  • Make some New Year’s resolutions: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated with quiet reflection and rituals that express gratitude for the sweetness in our lives (including dipping apples in honey). During the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we reflect on where we have gone off track in our relationships and take time to apologize to others. We set goals for spiritual self-improvement for the year to come. Even if you think of the New Year as starting in January, September is also a wonderful time to set goals and even check in on resolutions made last year.

However you spend those days, I’m wishing you and your families a sweet new year!

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