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

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. If you want to go to services, ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Do I have a synagogue membership?”
    If so, and if you’re a member in good standing, call the office or drop them an email to inquire about your tickets. Most synagogues mail out tickets a few weeks in advance; some hold them in the office and use a day-of “will-call” method. Make sure to ask who needs tickets – just adults, or will your kids need separate tickets, too? Calling your synagogue to discuss in advance will ensure that your family can worship in the way you envision.
  • “I’m not a member of a synagogue. What should I do?”
    Now is good time to think about membership or to explore a nearby community. Call and inquire about their High Holiday attendance policies. Find a congregation near you that offers some kind of guest tickets, community services free of charge, or other opportunities for non-members. I know, it sounds strange to need a “ticket” for a worship service, but synagogues need to hand out tickets because this is a busy season and often, every seat in the house is taken. Tickets help with crowd control, security, and ensuring you’ll have a place to sit!
  • “Which services should I attend?”
    Again, this sounds deceptively simple – but some High Holiday schedules seem to require an advanced degree to decipher! Consider the ages of your children. Will they be attending services with you? Are they old enough to sit through an adult service? If not, is there children’s programming available at your local synagogue? Babysitting? 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 figured out who goes where in advance. Plan ahead, line up your babysitters, and sign up for the appropriate children’s programs with plenty of lead time.

Ready your wardrobe.

Don’t wait until the day before Rosh HaShanah to make sure that your family has clothes wear to synagogue. With small children, getting dressed can be the most stressful part of the day, so a couple weeks prior, make sure you’ve got bottoms, tops, and shoes (my kids often end up in their sneakers because there are only so many battles we can wage over clothes!) that fit and are synagogue-appropriate. Do the same for yourself and feel good knowing you’re so on the ball.

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. If you’re hosting, do your meal planning at least a week in ahead of time, making sure to have some kid-friendly options, and buy your food in advance, too. 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!

Plan the small details.

If you think getting all the kids to synagogue and preparing the house for a family celebration may be too much for you to handle on your own, find a helping hand now – for childcare, especially. If you know you’ll be out late for a Rosh HaShanah meal or Kol Nidre services, book a babysitter now. If you know an elderly parent is going to need a ride to services or to a meal, arrange that ride now. Get your ducks in a row and you’ll be a happy camper when the holidays arrive.

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 the High Holidays. 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. Download some fun High Holiday kids’ 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! 

Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin is a rabbi and mother of four. Ordained by HUC-JIR, Sara currently serves Temple Emanu-El in New York City, as an adjunct rabbi. Sara has written for a number of Jewish publications and is also a proud contributor to The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate (CCAR Press). She, her husband Danny, and their children reside in New York City, where they are raising their dog to be Jewish.

View all posts by Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin