A Parent's Must-Have Guide to Handling the High Holidays

Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin

Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are almost here, which means life is about to get very, very busy – if it hasn’t already. The High Holidays bring a special kind of panic upon Jewish families across the globe, as parents frantically try on last year’s finest, only to realize the pants are too short, the shirts are stained, and the shoes are too tight (though you might be able to squeeze them on, if you really try…)

Here’s your guide to helping the holidays go more smoothly. I can’t promise seamlessness, but there’s no shame in aiming high!

Mark your calendar.

This one sounds simple, but it’s all too easy to forget. You don’t have to be that person who wonders when the holidays are! Put the dates into your calendar and you can become the person who knows, definitively.

Plan your days.

Decide in advance how and where you’ll spend the High Holidays. This year, with most of us remaining at home as much as possible, that question might seem moot. However, if you are a synagogue community kind of person, ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Do I have a synagogue where I feel at home?”
    Many synagogues will offer livestreaming or virtual worship or study or mediation you can log into. Information is usually published at least a month in advance. If you’re not sure what your synagogue offers, check them out online.
  • “I’m not a member of a synagogue. What should I do?”
    During these unusual times, you can easily check out congregations near you and see what they have to offer online – or mix it up and visit a community recommended by friends. 
  • “What kind of virtual experiences should I attend?”
    Consider the ages and stages of your children. What kind of experience do you want them to have? Are there family experiences designed specifically for everyone to worship together? Are there tot services, teen services, or some worship experiences exclusively for adults? You catch my drift. There are usually lots of options! Options allow for every member of the family to experience the holidays, but they can also drive you crazy if you haven’t made a plan in advance.

Ready your wardrobe.

Some of us may have worn pajamas or yoga pants for more days than we care to admit since the start of the pandemic. You may not be going anywhere, but wouldn’t it feel nice to dress up just a little? If you really want to go all out – great news! There is a tradition to wear new clothes for the holidays. Make yourself or someone else in your household feel special with something new-to-you.

Prepare your kitchen.

In advance of Rosh HaShanah, pack your fridge and cupboards with apples, honey, honey cake, and round challah. Maybe get fancy and cook up some Rosh HaShanah treats. It will make such a difference once Rosh HaShanah hits.

As Yom Kippur approaches, think about how you’re going to feed your little munchkins (and big ones) mid-atonement. You’re not likely to want to whip up a meal for your kids while you’re fasting, so consider prepping some easy, make-ahead meals to store in your fridge for folks who aren’t fasting. Think cold foods and salads so you can avoid cooking aromas while you’re fasting!

Preview the source material.

How many times did your teachers tell you to preview the material before you got to class? And how many times did you actually do it? But that one time it really helped, right? Brush up on the major themes and topics of both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur

These holy days are all about reflecting, thinking about how we can do better, how we can repair relationships, and saying we’re sorry. That’s a start. Read a few High Holiday-themed books with your children to get them in the zone and do a little reading yourself. We’re not talking graduate-level seminar-style source material; just open your browser and refresh your memory.

Stream some fun High Holidays music and play it on repeat. Get excited!

Do the work, say the words, and offer hugs.

In advance of the holidays, do some important modeling for your kids and family. Take time to reflect on your life and share your reflections with your kids and partner. Ask them for their input, as well. What they say may surprise you! Dedicate time to speak to each member of your family about the year that has passed and the year that lies ahead. Share ways you have missed the mark, say you’re sorry, and make space for them to do the same. Offer and receive hugs. Repeat.

With a little advance planning, you can ensure that your experience on the High Holidays will be as meaningful as it is joyful. Wishing you all a Shanah tovah u’metukah, a happy and healthy and sweet new year!