Engaging with Elul as a Family

Special activities in preparation for the High Holy Days.

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The Jewish month of Elul precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In order to observe these High Holidays in the most meaningful way, we must adequately prepare ourselves during Elul. This article gives a brief background on some of the traditional customs and legends connected to the month of Elul, as well as suggestions for how to engage these rituals as a family. Doing these simple family activities during the month of Elul is a great way to spend time together and teaches our children that as Jews, we live our lives in sync with our own special calendar.

The Sound of the Shofar: Wake up and Listen!

Background 

man blowing shofar

Gather your family around

to blow the shofar

On weekday mornings during the month of Elul, the daily prayer service ends with a single blast of the shofar. The extreme volume of the blast peaks our senses, serving as a daily reminder that Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, is on its way. We must focus our souls, take stock of the year, and reach deep down into our hearts to ask for forgiveness. The call of this horn also reminds us that our words--our sounds-- have extreme power. Listening to the voice of the shofar, we are reminded that we too must listen to pleas of forgiveness. With simple phrases--"I'm sorry" or "I forgive you"--we can repair broken relationships, or deepen our most meaningful human connections.

As a Family

Blowing a shofar or even a symbolic toy horn each morning as you count the days of Elul is a great way to gather the family together before a busy day. Whether everyone is going their separate ways to school and work, or the family is setting off together for a day at the beach, setting aside a few moments for this ritual can engage your children's interest in this important season.

Talk to your children about the concept of "forgiveness." As the month progresses, leave a few minutes after the shofar blowing to talk about forgiveness among enemies, friends, family, and even between God and the individual. Take time for personal reflection, including writing or meditation. Encourage your kids to share their goals for asking and receiving forgiveness, and share your own as well. Check in as the month goes on, offering praise for diligence and progress.

When your family arrives in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and finally hears the first of the traditional 100 blasts, your children will connect this now-familiar sound to their hard work of the past month.

Psalm 27 as a Meditation

Background

Starting on the first of Elul and continuing until the last day of Sukkot, it is customary to read Psalm 27 daily, often at the conclusion of morning and evening services. Its themes encompass many of the main themes of this season. In this Psalm, we admit our smallness and our fears, yet call out for God to answer and protect us.

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Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is the Director of Jewish Family Learning & Life at West End Synagogue, A Reconstructionist Congregation in Manhattan. She has her M.A. in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary. She is also a senior editor of Jewschool.com and Director of Programming for Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.