Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rosh Hashanah - A new year begins

This year, as the school year starts, Rosh Hashanah is almost already here, and I'm feeling a bit conflicted.   On the one hand it feels like a very busy September, with so much to do, and the seemingly impossible task of establishing a routine just as the routine is being broken up by holiday celebrations.   On the other hand, it feels appropriate for the school year to begin right along with the Jewish new year.   The questions raised by the holiday feel particularly timely.  What will be carried forward from last year and what will change?  Who will each of our children be and become in this coming year?  What will we resolve to cultivate in ourselves and our families, and what will we try to leave behind?

At its core Rosh Hashanah is about reflection on the past year, hoping for and wishing each other the best in the coming year, and choosing to do what we can to make it so, even as we acknowledge that it's not entirely in our hands, that we will have to work with what the year brings.

How can you use Rosh Hashanah @ your house as an opportunity for your family to reflect, resolve, dream and celebrate? As always on this blog, what follows is a list of suggestions of traditions and ideas you might want to bring into your family celebrations. It's not all or nothing, and depending on the ages and personalities of everyone involved, sometimes less is more. And even though you may choose to skip some of the ideas in an earlier section, you might still find something useful for your family further down the page.

The Basics

On Rosh Hashanah it's traditional to have a festive meal - in Hebrew a סְעוּדָה se'udah - with wine (or grape juice for the kids), round challah, apples and honey, and other holiday dishes. You can make a meal for just your family or invite friends and extended family to join you. Here you have the traditional table ritual with the order, the blessings and symbolism, and where you could cut it down if you need to move things along.

הדלקת נרות - Hadlakat Neirot - Lighting Candles

Rosh Hashanah, like most Jewish holidays begins with candle lighting. Candle lighting can happen 18 minutes before sunset, or just before dinner. The blessing is almost the same as for Shabbat.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָה ה' אֶ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel yom tov 
Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of all, who makes us holy with commandments and teaches us to light the holiday lights. 

Since it's a special occasion many people continue with Shehecheyau:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֱחִיָּנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, shehecheyanu v'kiyemanu, v'higianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of All, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day.

קִידוּש - Kiddush - Blessing the Wine

Almost all Jewish celebrations include wine and the blessing always includes the line:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּּה ה' אֶ-ֹלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְִּרי הַגָּפֶן 
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Borei pri hagafen 
Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of all, who creates the fruit of the vine 

This could be just the right amount for your family, or you could do the whole traditional Kiddush. At dinner time it starts with the line above and continues like this:

ּבָּרוּךְ אַתָּּה ה' אֶ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר בָּחַר-בָּנוּ מִכָּל-עָם וְרוֹמְמָנוּ מִכָּל-לָשוֹן, וְקִדְשָׁנוּ בּמִצְוֹתָיו. וַתִּּתֶּּן-לָנוּ ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה אֶת-יוֹם הַזִכָּרוֹן הַזֶה, יוֹם-תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ, זֵכֶר לִיצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם, כִּי בָנוּ בָחַרְתָּ וְאוֹתָנוּ קִדַשְׁתָּ מִכָּל-הָעַמִים וּדְבָרְךָ אֱמֶת וְקַיָם לָעַד. בָּרוּךְ אַתָה ה', מֶלֶך עַל כָּל-הָאָרֶץ מְקַדֵשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיוֹם הַזִכָּרוֹן.‏‎

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, asher bachar-banu mikol-am v'romemanu mikol-lashon, v'kidshanu b'mitzvotav. Vatiten lanu Adonai Eloheinu b'ahavah et-yom hazikaron hazeh, yom-truah mikra kodesh, zecher litziat mitzrayim, ki vanu vacharta v'otanu kidashta mikol-ha'amim ud'varcha emet v'kayam la'ad. Baruch ata Adonai, melech al kol-ha'aretz m'kadesh yisrael v'yom hazikaron.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of all, who chose and distinguished us among all the nations, and makes us holy through God's commandments. Lovingly grant us, Adonai our God, this day of remembrance, a day of shofar blasts, for holy gathering and remembering our leaving Egypt. You have chosen us and sanctified us among all the nations, and your word is true and everlasting. Blessed are you, Adonai, Ruler of all the earth, who makes Israel and this day of remembrance holy.

At lunch time, the longer version of Kiddush goes like this:

וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶת מוֹעֲדֵי ה' אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר בַּכֶּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵנוּ. כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא מִשְפָט לֵא-לֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב
Vay'daber Mosheh et moadei Adonai el b'nei yisrael
Tiku vachodesh Shofar b'keseh l'yom chagenu. Ki chok l'yisrael hu mishpat lelohei ya'akov.
Moses declared the sacred times of God to the people of Israel
Sound the shofar on the new moon of our feast day, for it is a law for Israel, a decree by the God of Jacob
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּּה ה' אֶ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְִּרי הַגָּפֶן 
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Borei pri hagafen 

Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of all, who creates the fruit of the vine 

At the end of kiddush for Rosh Hashana, like many other festive occasions it's traditional to add the Shehecheyanu blessing, used for new things and reaching special occasions.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֱחִיָּנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, shehecheyanu v'kiyemanu, v'higianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of All, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day.

In my family we really get into singing shehecheyanu. There's a recording of the tune we use on this page here listed as "Shehecheyanu - fancy".

הַמוֹצִיא - Hamotzi - Blessing the Challah

Rosh Hashanah challah is traditionally round to symbolize the cycle of the year and new beginnings. Usually when we eat challah, we sprinkle it or dip it in salt, but on Rosh Hashanah, and for many families, all the way from Rosh Hashanah through the end of Sukkot, it's traditional to dip in or drizzle with honey, for a sweet new year. Raisin challah is also particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah, because it is sweet. The blessing over the challah is the same as always:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of All, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Apples with Honey - תפוחים ודבש - Tapuchim Ud'vash

Maybe the best known tradition, and the one kids look forward to most is dipping apples in honey. Apples remind us of the season, and are round like the cycle of the year. The honey helps us wish for a sweet new year. Traditionally we say the blessing over the apple first, then the hope for a sweet new year.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָעֵץ
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, borei pri ha'etz.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of All, creator of the fruit of the tree.

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ, ה' אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וַאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
Yehi Ratzon milfanecha, Adonai Eloheinu vElohei avoteinu, shet'chadesh aleinu shanah tovah umetukah.
May it be your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, that we have a good and sweet new year

Festive Meal

There you have it!  All you need next is some yummy food for your meal. Though by this point, the kids may have filled up on grape juice, challah, apples and honey. For your meal, you can go traditional with Chicken soup, gefilte fish, roast chicken or brisket, kugel and vegetables. But there's no rule that you have to eat all these things, or that you have to make way too much food, or exhaust yourself cooking before the holiday even starts. The meal can be whatever feels special to you.

Adding More to your Meal Time

If you've already been doing a lot the above for a while, and you're ready to think about adding some other traditions to your meal, here are a few nice things you could do.

New Fruit

There is a tradition to eat some sort of new fruit on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It's partly about the theme of new things and new beginnings, but it's also because it feels a bit strange to say Shehecheyanu for the new experience on day two when we just did the same thing the day before. Some families try to find a fruit or vegetable they've never tried before. You can also choose something that you haven't eaten yet this year.

Symbolic foods

Beyond round challah, apples and honey, Rosh Hashanah has a host of foods that are traditional for one reason or another. I'll list some of them below, but I'm sure I'll miss some. Let me know in the comments if I left your favorite out or if you have a different explanation.


Pomegranate is full of seeds. Acording to Jewish tradition it has the same number of seeds as mitzvot in the Torah, 613. Eating pomegranate is like promising to do our best to do as many mitzvot as we can this year. It's also a symbol of fertility and helps us wish for a fruitful and prosperous year, in which all of what we plant, literally and symbolically, bears fruit.


The tradition of eating carrots comes from a Yiddish pun. Carrots in Yiddish are מערן, meren, which sounds like the word for more, מער, mer. When we eat carrots on Rosh Hashanah, we hope for a year where we will have more, do more, be more, than in the previous year. I grew up looking forward to Rosh Hashanah carrot salad with shredded carrots, oranges and pineapple.


The tradition of eating beets dates back to the Talmud, when in Aramaic, beets were called סלקא, silka, which also means to remove. Eating beets expressed the hope that the enemies of the Jews would be removed. We can think about what we'd like to remove from our lives and our characters as we move into the new year. Beet in modern Hebrew is סלק, selek.


Like beets, leeks are also mentioned in the Talmud, where they are called כרתי, karti. This word sounds like כרת, kareit - to cut off - and went with the hope that our enemies be cut off.

Gourds / Pumpkin

In the Talmud, gourds are called קרא, kra, which sound like the Hebrew word for both tear and call out. Eating squash or pumpkin is like asking that any bad judgments against us are torn up, and that God calls out and proclaims a good new year.

Fish Head

I don't know anyone who actually eats fish heads these days, though they used to be considered a delicacy and an honor. The tradition of eating a fish head, or placing one on the table expresses the hope that we will be "like the head, and not like the tail".

Table Conversations

One final way to enhance your holiday meal is to ask your family to participate in some holiday themed discussions. Here are a few suggestions for ways to get the ball rolling. Please add your own in the comments section below.

  1. Ask each person at the table to think of a new year resolution, one thing they'd like to do better this year. 
  2. Ask everyone to give a new year blessing, hope, or wish for someone else at the table. 
  3. Think of new year wishes and blessings your family would like to share with others who aren't with you, with your wider community or the world. 
  4. Have each person share one thing in their lives that has changed in the last year, and one that they expect will change in the coming year. 

Creative Opportunities

New Year Cards

One nice tradition is to make and send cards wishing friends and family a sweet new year. Yours could include photographs, kids' drawings, apple prints, or really anything you want. You could have family members create cards for each other, or to send to extended family and friends. Some families have the tradition of saving and hanging their Rosh Hashana Cards as decorations in their Sukkah.

Baking Challah

I love baking challah with my kids. I wish I made time to do it more often. It should probably be one of my New Year resolutions to do so. Rosh Hashanah is a great time to give it a try. Round challot are easier to form than braided ones. You can make them as a simple coil, or weave them into a very impressive braided look with a relatively simple pattern. Here's one video that shows how to do it.

Decorating the Table

You can get your kids involved with decorating the table. You might choose a white or mostly white tablecloth, since white is the symbolic color of the High Holy Days. If you have multiple challah covers in your collection, you and/or your kids could choose one that feels right for the holiday. If you don't, why not make one together? You can start with a white cloth napkin or another piece of cloth and decorate with fabric markers or paints, making pictures of holiday symbols like challah, apples and honey, and shofar. If you want you can add the words Rosh Hashanah, רֹאשׁ הַשָׁנָה.

Make a Shofar

Have your kids make their own shofar out of a whistle or kazoo, and paper, cardboard or toilet paper rolls. Here's one example of how it could be done. They can decorate with crayons or markers, and then practice the shofar calls.
The different kinds of blasts are:
Tekiah: one long blast
Shevarim: Three shorter blasts, all together about as long as a Tekiah
Truah: Nine very short blasts
Tekiah Gedolah: One super long blast
If your kids are older and play a brass instrument (such as trumpet or trombone), you could temporarily turn their mouthpiece into a shofar and let them practice shofar blasts on it. Or even buy a family shofar (they come in different shapes, sizes, and price points), and learn to blow it. The sound is produced just like a brass instrument, by buzzing the lips together.

Family Opportunities Outside your House

This blog is called Yom Tov @ Your House, but I'd feel like I was missing something if I didn't mention a few things you might do as a family that require leaving the house. Of course there's going to your synagogue or temple. Check out what options there are for kids. Many have young family services that may be designed just for your child's age. Plus there are few other things you could do if you venture out.


The tradition of tashlich, symbolically throwing our sins into the water as breadcrumbs, is one that kids can relate to and get excited about. Whether you go with an organized group from your synagogue or on your own as a family, the key to doing tashlich is finding a body of moving water (anything from a trickle of a stream to the Atlantic Ocean), thinking about what you want to throw away this year, and encouraging your kids to think about the same, and throwing bread crumbs into the water with the intention of getting a new start. 
There's an opportunity here to talk with your kids about knowing the difference between things that can be made better by just deciding not to do them again, and things that we need to make better by apologizing to other people who we hurt, making up, and deciding not to make the same mistake again.


In the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur, we talk about being judged for all of our deeds in the past year, and our fate in the coming year being determined based on that judgement. Now, theologically, this isn't really my favorite way of understanding the world. I doubt that most of us believe things really work this way on a small scale. But I do think it's worthwhile entertaining the metaphor once a year, and thinking about how our actions have affected those around us and how they make a difference, for good or bad, in the world.   On a grand scale, the way we behave as a community and society certainly does affect the world around us, at times with long-reaching consequences. 

Connected with this liturgy is the idea that תשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רעה הגזירה, Teshuva, tefilah, utzedakah ma'avirin et roah hagzeirah - repentance, prayer and tzedakah avert the bad decree.

According to our prayers, we have a chance to make things better at this time of year, through three mitzvot. Teshuvah, saying sorry, resolving to be better, gets talked about a lot. Tefilah, prayer, happens primarily at services, though it can also happen on your own. But Tzedakah is one opportunity we have as families to think of others at this time that we often reserve for introspection. So, think with your family about something you'd like to support or something you care about that can be part of your holiday observance, whether by donating money or things or setting a time to volunteer.

Nature Walk

Some families I know set aside time on Rosh Hashanah to take a walk in nature and appreciate the beauty of the world. Rosh Hashanah is known as the birthday of the world and considered the anniversary of when creation was completed. Taking a walk with family, pointing out the wonder and the beauty we so often take for granted, is another kind of Rosh Hashanah spiritual practice.

I hope some of these ideas and resources are helpful as you plan this year's holiday celebrations for your family. Please share your own traditions, both old and new, in the comments below. Wishing you a Shanah Tovah U'metukah, a good and sweet new year from my family to yours.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Welcome to Yom Tov @ Your House!  Over the next year, you can expect to find posts here on how to create or enhance your family's celebrations of each of the Jewish Holidays at home.
In the main post for each holiday, you'll find everything from the basics of traditional home holiday observance, to extra customs to enhance your celebrations, ideas for making the holiday work for young children, family discussion prompts, art projects, and mp3 recordings of holiday songs and blessings.
I'm writing this blog for members of the Metro West Jewish Day School community, but feel free to share it with anyone who might be interested.  My hope is that this will become a community enterprise, with comments from parents, other teachers and local community supporters providing ideas and customs for others to adopt and adapt.
What would you like to see on this blog?  Let me know in the comments section!