High Holiday services for young children

shofar-rachel.jpgThis year, against my better judgement, I’ve agreed to lead the tot Rosh Hashanah services (up to age six) at our synagogue. Gratned, I’ve agreed to do them in other years, but this year I was really, really, going to say no. Really. But then our synagogue hired a new education director, who moved this summer from out-of-town. She didn’t know anyone else to ask, and looked as if I might cry when I said I didn’t want to do it this year. (Yes, Rachel, I do occasionally exaggerate just a tiny bit help the story along.) So, I felt as if I couldn’t say no to her. (Except for Yom Kippur. I said no to that.)

I’ve always done a reasonably good job leading these services. But truth be told, I prefer to things better than reasonably well. After all, who knows how many snarky moms might post on their Jewish parenting blogs about how much they hated what went on in shul that day? (Oh wait, that’s me. Phew.)
So, beloved readers (and I do really do mean that, and not just because of the whole four-tenths of a cent I earn every time you visit), have you ever been to a positively wonderful Rosh Hashanah program for children? Do you remember what made it so great? Can you tell me? Specifically? Feel free to share a few stories about what the lousy ones, too, but no naming names. I’m truly grateful for any ideas you can share.
And for those of you in, or near, Western Massachusetts…if you are looking for something to do with your kids on Rosh Hashanah, come try Homeshuling’s Rosh Hashanah tot extravaganza at Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton. (No bloggers allowed.)
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Minnesota Mamaleh

posted August 27, 2010 at 4:27 pm

good luck, amy! i’m excited to see/ hear what you come up with! snarky or otherwise! :)

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Jen B

posted August 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm

If I am remembering correctly (a very big “if”!), the more singing, the better! And little candies help a lot! And stories!! My kids (twins age 4 and little one almost 3) have enjoyed “Even Higher”, “Engineer Ari” and “New Year at the Pier” so far this season, and we all were ho-hum about “Sound the Shofar”. (Well, little one has the attention span of a gnat, so we won’t count him…)
Over this last week, the four-year-olds and I have had several rather deep discussions about important concepts, based on these books:
– what it means to embarrass someone and to be embarrassed by someone – how boasting about yourself could hurt other people’s feelings
– how G-d is magical and amazing but also gave each of us the power to use our neshamas to do “magic” right here in the world with mitzvot and kindness
So depending on your crowd, you could have an even deeper and more meaningful service than the adults!!

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:31 pm

I just might have to bring Saskia.

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Sharon Panitch

posted August 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Another parallel to our already bizarrely similar lives! I’m leading the 0-6 services for the fourth year this year at Ohavi Zedek in Burlington, VT (2 days of RH, Kol Nidre, and YK). I actually was going to write to you and ask if you had any suggestions for books or stories for Yom Kippur. I’ve done The Hardest Word for three years now and a jazzed up rendition of Jonah. Would love something new for the repertoire, preferably something that isn’t syrupy preachy and that doesn’t mention the word “sin,” a word that I don’t particularly care for esp. in the context of teaching very small children. Doesn’t need to be in book form… I enjoy storytelling, too.
The death knell for any young children’s service comes when the kids have been sitting and listening for too long. I get them dancing and moving when I can, have them participate as much as possible by giving answers and suggestions, and keep several things out in the middle of the floor for them to touch and examine during the service. Melissa and Doug makes a great wooden RH set complete with play candles, shofar, round challah, etc. Amazingly enough, I still have most of the pieces. Anyway, all of these suggestions are pretty basic, esp. to a mom of small kids. I’d love to compare notes and resources with you, though. Good luck!

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posted August 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Sharon- my favorite book for Yom Kippur services is “David Gets in Trouble” – not Jewish at all, but a perfect fit.

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posted August 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm

i like puppets.
and singing.
and noisy shofar blowing.
and earplugs for the mamas and papas:-)
good luck!

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Nina B

posted August 28, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I love “David Gets in Trouble” too. Also, good YK book is “Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry”-(Hat tip to Natalie Blitt for the recommendation.)As far as kid services, the less they have to sit and the more they get to move the happier everyone is.
Shana Tova!

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posted August 29, 2010 at 9:03 am

Thanks for the recommendation, Nina. I just requested it from my library. Might be good for my kindergarten classroom-

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Sharon Panitch

posted August 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm

I forgot about David Gets in Trouble! I actually read that last year! (Kids-3. Brain cells-0.) I’ll look for the Martha book. Having a daughter who firmly refused to say “sorry” until she was four years old, I’ll be curious to check that one out. Am typing this while listening to my husband read “Bone Button Borscht” to our older two kids. I LOVE that book. Also reminds me that I thought about reading “Bagels from Benny” for RH. I really like books and stories that emphasize the power that we have to make the world a better place… appeals to my humanistic side.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I think I recommended it last year. I’m running out of new things to say.

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Bernard Roth

posted September 1, 2010 at 7:29 pm

As a grandpa with 11 grandchildren, I believe that children and their parents and grandparents should have a segment of the main service which is short and directed at children [this is in Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Services. Orthodox has too many archaic rules]. Timing probably just before lunch. Second Day Rosh Hashonah.

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted September 8, 2010 at 12:05 am

Just stopped by to see the great suggestions… some of which I will definitely incorporate into our home OR suggest to the leaders at our shul!
I have always found it meaningful to bring my children into our services (Orthodox) for short stretches: to hear Shofar, for Birkat Kohanim, and at maybe a few other times over the course of the day. I want them to hear the melodies and see how crowded the shul gets so they’ll know that Rosh Hashanah is more than just a “kiddie” holiday.
For Bernard (the previous commenter): They don’t do anything special for the kids, but the kids know they have their own special place upstairs. The world doesn’t have to revolve around them. Never noticed any “archaic rules” there, either, just a community coming together to pray. 😉

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