The 10 Days of Awe, which include Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Repentance), are perhaps the most meaningful and spiritually intensive days of the Jewish year. But some of the themes of this season, like prayer, forgiveness and justice, can feel abstract to young children. This leaves many parents searching for ways to involve their kids in their observance—ways that involve fun, creativity, meaning and lasting family memories. The good news is that simply spending time together as a family during the High Holy Days is a bonding experience that teaches children to value and enjoy their Jewish heritage. The even better news is that there are myriad ways to craft, bake, play and learn about the High Holy Days with kids. Read on for 10 ideas that are truly awe-some!

Create a lasting Rosh Hashanah keepsake by making a family apple tree using your child’s arm as the trunk. On a large piece of paper oriented vertically, trace your child’s arm, hand and fingers. Color in the arm “trunk” and finger “branches” with brown paint, markers or crayons. Have your child, or each member of the family, dip their thumbs or fingers into red, yellow and green paints to represent different kinds of apples, and dab away until your tree is full of fruit. You can add family members’ names to the branches to make the tree even more personal, or paint or draw larger apples to represent individual family members. This is a meaningful project to repeat each year as your tree grows along with your child’s arm! (Adapted from familycrafts.about.com.)

Few things spark the warm feelings of a Jewish holiday like the smell of a baking challah. During the High Holy Days, it’s traditional to make round loaves to represent the seamlessness of the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Raisins are often added to challah at this time of year for an extra bit of sweetness to start the year off. Kids will love to help measure and mix this easy dough, which requires no hand-kneading. And be sure to ask for their help when it’s time to roll the dough pieces into long strands!

Round Challah Recipe
Adapted from Margaret McConchie

Makes 4 loaves

3 eggs (or egg replacement)
7 cups bread flour
2 packages or 4 ½ teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup canola oil
2 cups very warm water (bath temperature)
¼ cup honey
Raisins (optional)
Poppy seeds (optional)

  • Let eggs warm to room temperature (if using eggs).
  • Put 5 cups of the bread flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add yeast, salt and sugar. Blend, keeping the mixer on low. Add the eggs one at a time, then oil, then water. Put the mixer on higher speed and add in four big squirts of honey (about ¼ cup).
  • Turn off the mixer, scrape off the beater and replace it with the dough hook. Turn it on low.
  • Add the remaining 2 cups of bread flour gradually. Let it knead for 5-6 minutes, until the dough is mostly pulled away from the sides.
  • Leave the dough in the bowl, put a dishtowel over it, and leave it to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours until doubled in size.
  • Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured surface. Cut it into four equal pieces, and then cut each of those into four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long strand. If you’re making a raisin challah, you can roll the raisins right into the dough at this point.
  • To create a round, braided challah, lay out four strands of dough in the shape of a number sign (#), with one strand going under and over another, and the other going over and then under another. To weave the strands together, place one over another, going around in a circular, spiral shape. Then do the opposite, taking the one that’s now under and draping it over the strand to the left, making a reverse spiral. You should have enough dough to make at least one more spiral in the opposite direction. Attach the loose ends together by pinching the dough strands together along the outer circle. Then make a bowl shape by bringing the corners up to the middle. Flip it over to see the completed round loaf. (Click here for a video demonstration of this technique. For step-by-step written instructions with photos, visit creativejewishmom.com.)
  • Turn the loaf over onto a baking sheet and repeat to create three additional loaves. You can place all four loaves together on one baking sheet. If using eggs, you can make a shiny coating for the challah by separating an egg, mixing the yolk with 1 teaspoon water, and brushing the egg mixture all over the tops of the challah. Then sprinkle with poppy seeds, if using.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

New England is apple country, and a visit to an orchard to pick apples straight from the tree is the stuff family memories are made of. There’s no shortage of orchards within driving distance of Boston, as this resource from Boston Magazine describes in detail. Visit pickyourown.org for more on local apple orchards and farms. At the orchard, choose different varieties of apples so you can see and taste the differences between, for example, a tart Granny Smith and a sweet Honeycrisp apple.

At home with your haul, head for the kitchen to make an apple kugel, apple muffins or an apple cake. Or make a quick and easy applesauce by cutting up 12 cooking apples, such as McIntosh (peeled or unpeeled, depending on your preference). Place the apples in a pot with about an inch of water. Sprinkle the apples with brown sugar, white sugar or honey, to taste, and season with cinnamon and nutmeg. Cover and cook on low heat—stirring often—until the apples are completely cooked and can be mashed with a potato masher into a delicious sauce that can be enjoyed hot or cold.

As your home fills with the luscious smells of cooking apples, talk with your children about how apples represent both the sweet and round aspects of the High Holy Days—that the year ahead should be as sweet as an apple dipped in honey, and that the cycle of years ends but begins again each Rosh Hashanah.

Everyone looks forward to taking the wish for a “sweet new year” literally by dipping an apple in some delectable honey. Though it’s lovely to purchase local honey from an apple orchard or other farm, consider date honey from Israel this year. It’s dark, thick and delicious, as terrific mixed in with yogurt as it is swirled around apple slices. It’s also believed to be the substance referenced in the Torah in Deuteronomy 8:8, in the verse that speaks of the promise that God will bring Israel “into a good land…a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” Date honey can be purchased from specialty stores or online outlets like this one.

Tashlich, the ritual ceremony that takes place in the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, is a powerful opportunity for families to have a concrete experience of repentance. The actual ceremony involves casting breadcrumbs, which symbolize a person’s sins, into a moving body of water, symbolically repenting for those sins and casting them away for a fresh start in the new year. Kids enjoy this ritual, and they can understand the idea that even though they have made mistakes, they can learn from their errors and try not to repeat them in the new year.

Bring the spirit of tashlich into your home by using bathtub crayons or markers like these to re-enact the ritual at tub time. If your child can write, they can write brief descriptions of their mistakes (“forgot to share,” “was unkind to David”) on the bathtub or the bottom edge of the tile wall. Drawings of the playground where Alyssa pushed a friend, or the dinner table where Jon threw spaghetti, can also be used to depict the mistakes kids have made. Have your child swirl a washcloth around in the water to mimic the moving waters of traditional tashlich, and invite them to wash their mistakes away. Point out how fresh and clean the tub looks, and remind them that Rosh Hashanah is a chance for a similar fresh start.

Handmade cards are a mainstay of the High Holy Days, not to mention a fun and meaningful way for families to get creative together. The possibilities are endless when it comes to crafting handmade cards. Here are three ideas to spark your family’s artistic imagination:

  • Paint one side of a small piece of bubble wrap in light brown or orange and press it onto a blank card to create a “honeycomb” background. Add thumbprints in yellow paint to make some “bees.” Once the paint is completely dry, use a Sharpie or other dark marker to add black stripes, eyes, wings and a grin to your sweet Rosh Hashanah bees! (Adapted from alphamom.com.)
  • Cut an apple in half, dip it in paint, and use it as a “stamp” to create an apple pattern on your card. Or make smaller apple stamps by cutting small notches out of one end of a wine cork (a grown-up needs to do the cutting part). Kids can grasp the cork, dip it in paint and stamp away. Add stems with a crayon or colored pencil. (Adapted from brasspaperclip.typepad.com.)
  • Work with your child to cut red, green, brown and yellow craft paper into small rectangles, triangles and squares. Using a glue stick, arrange and overlap the shapes so they form mosaic apples, honey jars, shofars or anything else that reminds them of Rosh Hashanah. Click here for an example.

Help your child complete her card with an English Rosh Hashanah greeting, like “Wishing you a sweet New Year!” or “Happy 5776!” Or share a traditional Hebrew New Year’s greeting like “Shanah Tovah” (Happy New Year), “L’shanah tovah tikatayvu” (May you be inscribed in the Book of Life), or “L’shanah tovah u’metukah” (To a good and sweet new year).

The shofar is a ram’s horn that is noted in the Torah in association with Rosh Hashanah and is the only ancient Israeli instrument still in use today. It’s one of the most recognizable symbols of the High Holy Days. Its four distinct blasts—tek’iah, shva’rim, teruah and tek’iah g’dolah—are meant to wake the Jewish people in a spiritual sense, bringing our full attention to the work ahead of repentance and forgiveness. This brief video shows all four blasts being blown against the backdrop of a Jerusalem sunrise.

Kids love musical instruments, and they can connect with the meaning of the ancient shofar by creating their own. Cut out a square foot of paper from a brown grocery bag. Using a paintbrush, spread glue over one side of the square. Place a party horn at one corner of the square, with the mouthpiece off the paper. Roll the square around the horn into a cone shape, and press it gently so the glue adheres. Bend the wide end of the cone upward to represent the curve of a ram’s horn, and let dry. Once dry, trim the cone’s edges to create a round shape, and blow your shofar! (Adapted from “The Jewish Holiday Craft Book” by Kathy Ross.)

Gathering around the table for festive Rosh Hashanah meals and Yom Kippur break-fast is even more special when that table is filled with items your children have made for the holidays.

Start by using large pieces of sturdy paper to make placemats. Your child can draw on, paint, stamp or use stickers to decorate the mat however he likes. You might want to invite him to glue on print-outs of High Holy Days blessings, as Joanna Brichetto suggests in this blog post, or cut the mat into an apple shape before decorating. Cover the mats in clear contact paper on both sides, and they will survive spills and be a memento for many New Years to come.

Another special touch is to create handmade napkin rings. One technique is to cut empty paper towel tubes into rings, paint them red, and glue a green “stem” to the top (adapted from notimeforflashcards.com). Or paint wooden beads yellow, green and red and create jaunty apple-and-bee beaded rings, as Brenda Ponnay describes in detail in this blog post.

Finally, even the smallest tot will enjoy filling a bowl with fresh, ripe apples to serve as a centerpiece as well as a reminder of the sweetness and renewal of Rosh Hashanah.

Giving tzedakah, or charity, is a meaningful family activity all year long, but the day before Yom Kippur is believed to be a particularly significant day to share with those who are less fortunate. You can get kids involved with tzedakah by having them accompany you when you drop off donated items. You can also create a family tzedakah box to let your kids have their own place to drop coins and bills that can be collected and donated to a cause the family agrees on.

It’s easy to craft a handmade tzedakah box, which is also called a pushke in Yiddish. Choose your vessel—this can be any number of recycled materials, including a tissue box, shoe box or a clean, empty food container with a lid, like a can of coffee or breadcrumbs. Decorate the outside, either by first gluing a clean covering of colored paper around the box, or by pasting magazine cut-outs, attaching stickers or painting directly on the box. You can glue on craft materials like pompoms, buttons or sequins to make the box stand out even more. If you’re using a lidded container, have a grown-up cut a slit into the center of the lid so money can be added to the box. It’s traditional not to handle money on Yom Kippur itself, but contributing as a family to your tzedakah box the day before the holiday—and all the days after—is a special and ongoing mitzvah to do together.

It can be challenging for children to grasp the full spiritual meaning of the High Holy Days, especially Yom Kippur, which is such an emotionally intense holiday. You can help them express their understanding of this time of year by helping them create their own machzor, or prayer book. The design of the book can be simple—take a small stack of construction paper, fold it in half, and staple along the fold. Title the book, “My Yom Kippur Machzor,” and get busy filling the pages. You can devote pages to symbols of the High Holy Days, such as a shofar, the scales of justice and a tzedakah box. You can also illustrate the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, which is read on Yom Kippur. Or encourage your child to make drawings depicting the ways she hopes to bring goodness and kindness into the world in the coming year.