As summer changes to autumn in St. Louis, we seek ways to find nature-based connections in celebration of Simchat Torah. North of the equator, children and adults alike marvel as the natural world dazzles in majestically colored autumn leaves, as if in celebration of the Torah. At Shirlee Green Preschool at Congregation Shaare Emeth, our teachers harness the wonder of fall to bring awe, delicacy, and beauty to our community's celebrations.
Each year, our young learners carefully create items that are integral to our community's celebrations. The handicrafts the children make serve not only as props during services, exalting the Torah, but they forge connections between each day's place on the Jewish calendar and the rhythm of the natural world's seasonal changes during the High Holidays.
The Jewish value of hiddur mitzvah (enhancement of the mitzvah) is often cited as the reason why we use specially adorned and beautiful objects in our rituals: a fancy ceramic goblet for kiddush rather than a regular drinking glass from the cupboard, a beautiful, embroidered silk challah cover rather than a paper napkin. Hiddur mitzvah teaches that the things we use in performance of the mitzvot should be beautiful. It follows that the creation of these special ritual items should also be done in an intentional, thoughtful, beautiful way.
Our preschool teachers understand this idea implicitly, and so, as we prepare, we honor God with the careful beauty of everything we make. Our handiwork matters. Each of our creations reflects our values, our community, and our place within it. We create with purpose and thoughtfulness, harnessing the collective wonder and awe of the High Holidays.
Here are some of our favorite crafts for Simchat Torah to bring the beauty of the season to your celebrations:
Beaded Yad (Torah Pointer)
A yad, or Torah pointer, is more than a decoration. It looks like a hand at the end of an arm and is used to keep one's place while reading the Torah. The yad represents the sanctity of the Torah, ensuring that the scroll is not touched by bare hands. Here's how to make your own:
Mud/clay (from a creek or store)
Needle or toothpick
Wire, pipe cleaner, or skewer - this will be the rod for your beads
- Wet three handfuls of clay to make a paste-like mud.
- Plop the mud into the bucket.
- Remove dime-sized bits of clay and roll it into balls. Experiment with sizes and techniques while noticing the texture and smell of the clay.
- Using a needle or toothpick, pierce a hole through the center of each ball.
- Let dry
- Paint your beads (optional)
- When the beads are dry, gently slide them onto the pipe cleaner, wire, or wooden skewer.
- Cut out a small paper hand and attach it to the end of your yad .
Summer Harvest Flag
On Simchat Torah, the synagogue hosts a boisterous parade and children wave flags. Waving a banner can unite us and celebrate the strength of community. Explore the colors of the season while making your own flag with dye created from flowers.
½ Cup alum salt (Sold as "alum." Vinegar or cream of tartar will also work.)
8" x 10" white cotton fabric
- Collect vibrant flowers from your garden or a local store. Cut off the stems and set the petals aside.
- Fill a medium saucepan with water, add the salt, and simmer your fabric for one hour. This helps fix the color on the cloth.
- Spread the flower petals on a hard surface.
- Place fabric on top and bang away with the mallet.
- Spritz the fabric with alum salt water and dust off the flower petals.
- When it's dry, attach your flag to a stick and wave, wave, wave!
Create Atzei Chayim (Torah handles)
The wooden handles on the Torah are called atzei chayim. Long enough to extend beyond the top and bottom of the Torah, there is a handle on each end for rolling the scroll.
2 Thin branches (no thicker than a child's wrist)
Scissors or knife
- Find two branches no thicker than your child's wrist.
- Cut the branches to the same length.
- Give the sandpaper to your child and have them smooth each stick. This might take a while, but it's a great sensory experience that also prepares little hands for writing.
- Decorate a long strip of paper with watercolor and markers. Attach each end to a stick.
- Practice gently rolling and unrolling the scroll.
When we focus on handicrafts, we help children create lovely, useful things. Handicrafts are traditionally made for both aesthetic and functional purposes. Each item uses materials from nature so that children can learn about the seasonal rhythm of the High Holidays. Created slowly, thoughtfully, and full of intention and purpose, each craft reminds children that beautiful things take time and that making something from scratch is a lovely way to honor God.