Children and the High Holy Days

A mom emailed me this question:

Our daughter will be attending a public school in our neighborhood this fall. We’ve also finally joined a shul where she will have Hebrew school classes. I’m wondering what to do about High Holidays now that many will fall on “school days.” Do you keep the kids home only to have to sit in childcare after a short family service is over? Or send them to school and emphasize the holiday in the evening?

First let me emphasis that there is no one correct answer; each family will need to determine what works for them.

In an ideal situation you would all go to services together and then go to friends or home afterwards to continue the observance of the holidays. Rosh Hashanah is pretty easy, you can do a craft together, read, and, of course, have a celebratory meal. Yom Kippur is less easy for a little one. They can eat but you may be fasting. You can’t keep them at shul all day with the congregation. One or both parents can go home and have a quiet day with your little one. Then, if the shul has a break-the-fast, you can rejoin the congregation for that in the evening of Yom Kippur. Or you may have your own break-the-fast with friends or just for your family.

If one or both parents need to go to work after services all this shifts. You can:
1. Leave your daughter in her public school classroom and observe the holiday in the evening.
2. Take them out for the morning service and then either put them in childcare or home with a babysitter or with a friend.
3. If one parent really doesn’t care for High Holiday services you could have one parent stay home with the child until they are old enough to spend the day at shul. I would estimate that to be about fourth grade, but it really depends on your child.

Be prepared for other kids to say things like, “Why are you here if Josh is at synagogue? Are you really Jewish?” Remember that little children ask litmus test questions. They think in yeses and nos. If there are non-Jewish children trying to figure out what “Jewish” means they may be using the only yardstick they have – the actions of other Jewish children in the class.

If this is the case, simply be ready with the truth, “Mommy says I’ll go when I’m older but right now I’m too young to – fast, be home alone after Mommy goes to work, etc.” Also, it may be that your child is savvy about them self. My son was well aware at a very young age that he did NOT like a lot of switching around. Getting up, going to shul, then back to class, then home would not have worked for him. One major activity a day was sufficient. That could be school or it could be shul. I had to make a choice or risk upsetting his equilibrium.

Things to consider:
What is my child’s temperament?
What does my synagogue have in the way of children’s services?
Do we have a friend who would be willing to take my child home for a play date when I go to work?
What can my spouse deal with?
How do I want my child to think of the High Holy Days? Am I making THAT happen?

Email me if you need further help.