Engaging with Elul as a Family

Special activities in preparation for the High Holy Days.

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As a Family

Verse four reads:  

"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple//Ahat sha-alti mei-eit Hashem ota avakeish, Shivti b'veit Hashem kol y'mei  hayai, Lachazot b'noam Hashem ul-vaker b'heikhalo."

1. Read these words out loud. Discuss: Is this a sad poem or a happy poem? Do you think the person who wrote it was surrounded by friends or feeling lonely? Why?

2. Listen to this verse sung in a major and upbeat pace. (Click here)

3. Then, listen to this verse sung in a minor key and slower pace. (Click here)

4. Re-read the words. Which tune fits better with the words?

Rosh Hodesh Elul: A New Year for the Animals

Girl at Aquarium

Take your family to

an aquarium or zoo


According to the Mishna, the first of Elul, was to be considered a Rosh Hashanah (beginning of a new year) in respect to the tithing of animals (Rosh Hashanah 1:1). In ancient times, this designation gave a clear date from which to determine your yearly donation of animals for the priestly class. However, in post-Temple times this custom fell out of practice, and no symbolic replacement was made.

As a Family

How can we, as modern Jews, find a way to commemorate this ancient ritual? We can choose to celebrate the day, or a free day that week, as a special day for all animals. Visit a farm, aquarium, or a zoo, volunteer at an animal shelter, or even just rent an interesting movie about animals. If your children are old enough, you may want to talk to them about kosher slaughtering and even visit a place where you can witness it firsthand.

Another suggestion: read the quotation below from Job 12:7-8: "But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you, Or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you." Then, go on a nature walk with your kids, making a list together of all the things they would like to learn from animals.

Moses in the Cleft of the Rock


Starting on the first Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, we begin to recite the daily selichot service, a series of penitential prayers that overlap in form, theme and content with sections of the High Holiday liturgy. One of the sections that is repeated many times both in this service and then later in the high holiday liturgy is  the passage enumerating the thirteen attributes of mercy. In the original text from Exodus, Moses asks God for permission to "see" God face to face:

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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.