Going to Religious Services for the High Holidays
While children may love Chanukah and Passover for the traditions they offer, the High Holidays are the most important of the Jewish holidays. And unlike Chanukah and Passover that are home-based holidays, the Jewish High Holidays usually are celebrated communally in temple or synagogue with prayer services. Of course, special meals for family and friends during the High Holidays are hosted in homes. A congregation provides a place to pray, listen to readings from the Torah, and hear the blasts of the shofar, as well as a spiritual space for self-reflection and introspection.
Many synagogues offer a variety of services for adults, families and children of different ages.
Defining what prayer is might actually be harder than the praying itself. How do we describe or define prayer for young children? Prayer can have many forms, meanings, intentions and methods for different people.
Early childhood experts agree that young children are able to handle conversations about spirituality often better than adults because they haven’t yet traded their senses of wonder for logic and reason. As Maxine Segal Handelman and Roberta Louis Goodman explain in their book, Jewish Every Day: The Complete Handbook for Early Childhood Teachers: “Miracles are a natural part of life. Hearing voices, seeing things that others do not, viewing events as miraculous, are commonplace.” These characteristics make young children willing and able to more easily respond to God and their spiritual selves.
Young children enjoy learning new rituals, exploring objects and symbols, and developing new skills. They like repetition – repeating something again and again until they get it mastered.
And asking questions, lots of questions, is both a characteristic inherent in our tradition and a hallmark of toddlerhood.
The answers to the questions can be challenging, but so is being a role model to your children when you’re modeling something you aren’t very comfortable with yourself. Think about what prayer means to you. Prayer may be words (spoken or not) expressing wishes, petitions, blessings, thankfulness, and response to sadness, fear, or happiness. Prayer may be spontaneous from the heart or happen at certain times in fixed format. Prayer may be written by others, ancient or contemporary, or made up on the spot by the person praying.
Spend some time thinking about what prayer means to you, and share that with your children. What do you pray for, to whom, and why? Encourage children to find ways to express their prayers as well.