Celebrating High Holy Days by Stacey May

With the arrival of Fall in all its colorful splendor, we welcome crimson leaves and orange pumpkins and cooler weather. Jewish families around the world usher in some of the most important days of the year on the Jewish calendar. Four holidays are observed during the first few weeks of Fall - the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, closely followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
 
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are some of the holiest days of the year. Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Jewish New Year. Generally, a time to reflect on the year passed and pray for the blessing for the year to come. A special horn called a Shofar is blown to signify the start of the new year. People send cards and share a special dinner with family. Traditional foods such as challah are eaten and apples are dipped in honey to signify the hopes for a sweet new year.
 
Ten days after Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur is observed. Yom Kippur is a day when one fasts and seeks to correct any wrongdoings they may have made during the prior year. It is a somber day and one meant to be reflective and repentant. It is also a day to consider one's individual behavior and how changes can be made to atone for any missteps.
 
Sukkot is a celebration of the season. A week-long harvest festival. Families build sukkah (huts or tents) in their backyard to symbolize the dwellings that Jews lived in when they wandered the desert for forty years. While in the sukkah they eat meals that signify the Fall harvest and are built around fresh fruits and vegetables. 
 
Simchat Torah closes the high holidays and marks the end of the reading of the Torah for the year and the beginning of a new reading cycle. Families sing and dance at Temple as the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark. Many families like to celebrate this holiday by re-reading a favorite book followed by reading a new one to start a new year.
 
If you are interested in learning more about the Jewish high holidays, please consider the picture book titles below:
 
A Moon For Moe & Mo by Jane Breskin Zalben
Once every 30 or so years Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan overlap. In this story, Moses Feldman and Mohammed Hassan both live on Flatbush Avenue, but it isn't until they meet at Sahadi's market that they come best friends. Eventually, they plan a picnic while their families prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan. Excellent back matter with information sheets for both Rosh Hashana and Ramadan as well as recipes for each tradition.
 
The Hardest Word: A Yom Kippur Story by Jacqueline Jules
The Ziz, a wonderful bird who lived long ago, is so big and clumsy that he can't keep from bumping into things. When a tree he knocks over destroys the children's garden, he seeks God's help to fix things. "Bring me the hardest word," God instructs him, and the Ziz flies off to search. He brings back words like rhinoceros, rock, and Rumplestiltskin, but none is acceptable until he makes an important discovery.
 
The Vanishing Gourds: A Sukkot Mystery by Susan Axe-Bronk
When Sara's gourds―decorations for the family sukkah―start mysteriously disappearing, the hunt for the culprits is on. The family of squirrels who are to blame pay the family back for the missing gourds in a surprising way.
 
Shanghai Sukkah by Heidi Smith Hyde and Jing Jing Tsong
In Shanghai's Hongkew, two boys, one German-Jewish, one Chinese, share in the celebration of their harvest holidays, Sukkot and the Moon Festival. Probably best for grades 3+ and up. See the entire Kirkus Review here: Shanghai Sukkah.
 
Who's Got the Etrog? by Jane Kohuth
Auntie Sanyu builds a sukkah in her Ugandan garden. Curious wildlife―the Warthog, the Lion, the Giraffe, the Elephant, and other animals―come to celebrate the Sukkot holiday. They all want to shake the lulav and smell the etrog, but will selfish Warthog learn to share? This charming picture book introduces children to the harvest festival of Sukkot and the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda.
 
If you are interested in more books that focus on Jewish life, customs and traditions, please head over to the PJ Library website. Scroll over the word BOOKS at the top of the page. From there, choose your age range.
 
My wish for us all is that our New Year (no matter when or how it is celebrated) is as sweet as apples dipped in honey.
Back