How to Celebrate the Jewish High Holidays with Kids
I’m a mother of two-and-half-year-old triplets. I was four months into marriage when I found out, so in less than a year I went from single, to married, to a family of five. This fact used to be my crown of glory, but now I’m often a mess and rarely have it together.
People automatically see me as a mom guru. I usually get the reaction, “Wow, you have your hands full.” I often have people asking me about scheduling, play dates, teething, and other parenting questions.
The truth is, I’m not a mom guru, and every day I’m learning the ins and outs of parenting. One struggle I’ve had since their birth is navigating the High Holidays and bringing back their intrinsic meaning that used to come so easily.
Before the girls were born, and before I was married, I had a certain vision of what Jewish living looked like. To feel the meaning of the holidays I needed to be in shul (synagogue), spend time learning and speaking Torah with others, dress up, and join beautifully decorated tables with delicious meals.
This was also the case while I was married without kids, except that I was in charge of planning meals and inviting guests. I finally felt complete with my counterpart. I loved it and felt so involved in creating meaning in our home.
When I had my triplets everything changed, and the truth is that this would happen even with one child. There was the constant fear that I was forgetting something every time I left the house. Being so dependent on my diaper bag and schedules never crossed my mind before having kids.
Going to shul became the ultimate challenge as it was not always the best option for a baby. It made little sense to lug a huge diaper bag, buckle up three babies in a stroller, and walk over to shul to daven (pray) between feedings. Their needs trumped my need to be in shul.
My husband went to shul on behalf of our family, and I was at home all day taking care of feedings, poopie diapers, and schedules. This was not my “living the Jewish life” vision.
Even trying to daven at home was becoming hard, and soon I had no interest in picking up the siddur (prayer book). I was spending so much time in the physical aspect of taking care of three human beings that my spiritual side began to lag. It seemed as though I had to pick between two sides, the physical and the spiritual, with no path in sight to where the two could be merged.
Don’t tell my husband this, but when I was a teenager I would tell my parents that when I got married, I wanted to have 10 children. Can you imagine? I can’t now. I’ve been served a dose of my own medicine.
I mean, I would love a big family. After all, I grew up with six other siblings, five of them brothers, and I see the benefits of having siblings close in age. But I feel that now I have a different perspective than I had in the past.
The truth is that celebrating the Jewish High Holidays with kids involves a complete paradigm shift. I didn’t get the message until my girls were around two-years-old and we moved away from the hub of Jewish life in Los Angeles to a suburb of Boston with a small Chabad house.
Now, where we live is outside of an eruv (enclosement) and we have to walk 25 minutes to our shul. Very little of my vision of living the Jewish life was available and for many Shabboses I felt disconnected.
I’m still working to find the paradigm shift every single day I spend with my children, but what I can honestly say has brought much of the meaning back for me is living life through my children’s eyes.
A beautifully decorated Shabbos/High Holiday table is not going to be remembered in the eyes of an infant, toddler, or young child. The feelings and excitement will last though.
Shul is not the hub anymore. My children are the hub of Jewish experience.
I’m still learning this, but when a Jewish holiday comes around I try to see my every action with my children as meaningful as the davening going on in shul.
It is taught in Judaism that each month brings down a certain flow of energy and the same is true for days given to us by G-d. This divine flow comes back every year on the same Hebrew date and it is not only found in shul.
My goal is to uncover this energy through all my physical actions. When I’m feeding the girls, I’ve used this as a time to ask questions and sing songs related to the holiday. During playtime, I embrace the noise and laughter and create a mini shul where we daven and tell stories. It’s the basics, but sometimes it’s good to get back to the basics.
I’ve shifted my focus and it has been a game changer. My table is rarely set when guests come, and I’ve found that monochromatic one-piece dresses are my friend and to never, ever wear long dangling earrings.
I’ve learned that if I listen closely to my children they can teach me about Torah from a pure and simple connection. These moments have become my new vision of Jewish living.
Through my children, I see the beauty and meaning in every second of the Jewish holidays.