Back to school shoes. Check!
New backpack and lunchbox. Check!
New class schedule in hand. Check!
It is a very busy time of year for many families. We finish our summer activities and prepare for the school year ahead. We buy school supplies, new clothes, and anticipate new teachers and even new schools. For Jewish families, this time of year is an opportunity for all of these things and so much more.
We are approaching the High Holidays. This time period offers us a special opportunity to mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves for the year ahead. As adults, we know our responsibility in this realm. We can easily put our minds to these tasks. But how do we approach these challenging and complicated ideas with our children? With a mom who’s a Jewish educator and a dad who’s a rabbi, our family has established a few traditions to get our kids ready for the High Holidays.
In Michigan, when September rolls around, we know it is time to start enjoying our locally produced apples and apple cider. This works out nicely, as on Rosh Hashanah we dip apples in honey for a sweet new year. Every year our family ventures to one of the local orchards. We pick apples and take pictures that will appear on the Rosh Hashanah card that we send to families and friends. We’ve been doing this since our boys, Caleb, 8, and Ayal, 5, were babies, which means we have a nice collection of yearly pictures of their growth and development.
Our favorite apple orchard to visit is Blake’s Orchard in Armada, Michigan, though there are many other excellent orchards near Metro Detroit. Each of these orchards offer hay rides and fun fall activities for the family. Franklin Cider Mill in Bloomfiled Hills does not have an apple orchard, but it does offer access to fresh, local apples and cider.
During our annual drive to Blake’s, we take the time in the car to discuss some of the things we would like to improve upon or do better in the year to come. It is a great opportunity to ask our children to set some goals for themselves and for our family. For example, last year, our 5-year-old wanted to try to say please and thank you more often, and our 8-year-old planned to help more around the house by taking out the garbage each week. Everyone walks away from our apple picking adventure with ideas about how we will approach the new year, along with some yummy apples to boot.
Upon returning home with our bushels of apples of many varieties, we set out to use them in the cooking we will be doing for our holiday meals. We make round apple challahs, applesauce, and apple kugels, and I make sure to let my boys help out. This is another wonderful lesson for our them: The foods we prepare together will be served to the guests that will be joining us on our holiday meals. Thinking of others is an important step for children in preparing for the holidays as well.
Tashlich (literally “to cast”) is an important ritual performed this time of year. It is traditionally performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, but can be completed during the days leading up to Yom Kippur. Our family does tashlich with our synagogue community on Rosh Hashanah in the River Rouge. There are many other places to perform this ritual throughout the area: Kensington Metropark in Milford or Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township are great places to do tashlich and bring your bikes, hiking, and/or beach gear while you do it. The Detroit Riverwalk offers another option and a great opportunity to see the revitalization projects taking place in the city. Wherever you choose to throw your crumbs/sins, it is a hands-on opportunity for children and their parents to witness each other admitting mistakes. We can all let go of our past while we look to do better during the upcoming year.
Our local kosher grocery store in Oak Park is called One Stop Kosher. Each year right before Rosh Hashanah, they order large quantities of pomegranates so that we can use them at our holiday meals for a sweet fruit in addition to the more traditional apple.
During the first Rosh Hashanah meal at our home, we say the shehechyanu prayer before biting into a sweet apple dipped in honey. This prayer reminds us of this unique and special moment, but on the second day, we need something new in order to be able to say the shehechyanu blessing. This is where the pomegranate comes in. It is a new sweet fruit that is also one of the seven Biblical species of Israel. We look forward to tasting the sweet seeds dipped in honey while saying a new blessing. Our children look forward to picking out these special pomegranate fruits each year at the store and they eagerly watch as I dissect the fruit to get the seeds ready for tasting. My hands are stained red as well as my apron, but the experience is always worth it.
While in the midst of preparing for a new school year, let us not forget the importance of preparing our families for a new Jewish year as well. Our tradition offers us so many opportunities to teach our children about the significance of the holidays. It also encourages us to discuss and prepare our families for the goals and behaviors we will work to accomplish in the coming year. This is a very active family endeavor, which will bring each family member even more sweetness. Wishing you and yours a sweet, happy, and healthy new year!