Unit 2 Lesson 4: Judaism

Alternate lesson: focus on rosh hashana

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is the first of the Jewish High Holy Days that occur every fall (September 29 in 2019).  It is a time to look back at the year behind and look ahead to the future- an opportunity to pause, reflect, and take stock of the choices we have made.  People both ask for forgiveness and grant it, doing their best to wipe the slate clean and begin again with a fresh start to the new year. 

Much of Rosh Hashanah is spent with family and community in the synagogue.  People stand together, knowing that everyone has made mistakes and must face them.  In asking for forgiveness and understanding, the community bears witness to one another and supports one another in solidarity.

Rosh Hashanah is typically observed for two days, during which services are held in the synagogues both in the mornings and evenings.  There are special High Holiday prayers, recitations, and music during these services.  There is also a ritual blowing of a ram’s horn, or “shofar.”  It is sounded in three distinct calls to jolt the Jewish people awake- they are to “wake up” to the wrongs they have committed and make them right, “wake up” to the sadness and heartache in the world around them, “wake up” to the fact that they have the power to change the world for good!

Families also enjoy festive meals with symbolic foods during Rosh Hashanah:  Apples and honey for a sweet new year and round challah to remind them of the never-ending circle of life.

Opening the Lesson

Explain the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Pass out coloring pages and let children color while you read the story.

Story possibilities:

Building the Lesson

Casting Off

Reiterate that Rosh Hashanah is a time of looking back at the things you’ve done and committing to change.  There is a tradition of throwing breadcrumbs or pebbles into a river in a symbolic act of “casting off” the sins of the past year.  Pass out small square of paper, pencils, and crayons.  Have the children write a sentence or color a picture about something they’re sorry for or a mistake they made.  Discuss together how they could do differently in the future, or how they can make things right with people they’ve hurt.  Then crumple up your papers and throw them in the “river”! (a strip of blue fabric on the floor)

Symbolic Feast

Share with the children a special snack:  apple slices and honey for a sweet new year, and round challah bread to represent the annual cycle of new beginnings. If the children would like to wish each other a Happy New Year while enjoying their feast, teach the phrase, “L’Shanah Tovah,” which is Hebrew for “A Good Year.”

Closing the Lesson

While the group is eating, ask the children to recall a special holiday where they get together and share food with friends and family. What are their favorite foods at these feasts? Do they think people all over the world with different religions have special foods for special celebrations? Do they know of any?

Remind the children that this food is symbolic of a fresh start to the new year. How could they work towards a “sweet” new year? If time allows, use butcher paper to create a list of ideas!