The memorable sound of the shofar is a highlight of Rosh Hashanah, especially for children who wait patiently through the songs and prayers of the service.
As a young girl growing up in a Reform temple, the sharp, loud sound of the ancient ram’s horn was my signal. It told me that the service was almost over, which meant that I finally could eat bobka and change out of my itchy dress.
Today, I still look forward to hearing the first blast of tekiah, but for a much different reason. Now that I have children of my own, the unique sounds of the shofar represent a new beginning, not an end, to something special. It’s a new school year, a new season, and a new opportunity to improve myself.
Not until I reached parenthood did I begin to truly understand the season of renewal and that Rosh Hashanah symbolizes much more than apples and honey.
The shofar, which is the oldest musical instrument still in use, is a wake-up call to parents. With each blast, the shofar reminds us to better appreciate our children and our relationships because they seem to change faster than the red and gold leaves on autumn’s sugar maples.
With one long blast of tekiah, God brings us together and announces: “Wake up all you sleepy heads! Today is a special day! It’s a New Year! Open your ears! Pay close attention to the voice of the shofar, and let the sound guide you to tune into the words and needs of your children!”
Then, with nine short blasts of shevarim, God asks: “Look inside yourselves. What were the low moments in your life this past year? What were the highs?”
Next, with three short blasts of teruah, God reminds us: “Again, reach deeper into your souls. Who did you hurt this past year? How can you make it better?”
Finally, with one long blast of tekiah g’dolah, God smiles upon us and declares: “At this moment, Jews everywhere enjoy the sound of the shofar — the joyful song within each of you. What is your birthday wish for the world? What is your involvement in the perfection of the world?”
According to the rabbis, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are one of the four times during the year that the world is judged. Unlike other Jewish holidays connected with historical or natural events, the “Days of Awe” are purely religious and are a time for heartfelt introspection and serious goal setting. For children, this Jewish concept of redemption might seem over the top, but the ritual of tashlich, which means to “throw” or “cast off,” conveys this High Holiday message loud and clear.
Most kids learn best by doing, and tashlich is a perfect activity to involve your whole family, no matter what their age. In the tashlich ceremony, which dates back to the Middle Ages, my husband Scott and I take our kids Jack and Sari to a neighborhood lake to throw bread crumbs, or even stale matzoh pieces, into the flowing body of water. The ceremony is symbolic and concrete at the same time, as we make a special effort to ask and grant forgiveness to loved ones and friends.
Tashlich is a wonderful way for my family to spend time together outdoors and enjoy the crisp, cool air that makes fall my favorite season. As we stand at the water’s edge and cast our “sins” into the “depths of the sea,” as described in the Micah, we take turns saying a prayer.
Whether we write our own words or borrow them from a Jewish text, the prayer becomes our personal family service. For example:
Me: “The water is pure and teaches us that it’s time to cleanse ourselves and wash away all of our mistakes.”
Scott: “Today, as we throw away our bread crumbs, let us rid ourselves of all bad habits and grudges that we may have.”
Jack: “Today we begin a new year of goodness. We hope that God will overlook our failings during the past year and give us another chance.”
Sari: “May we always feel God’s love for us and know that God will help us improve ourselves in this new year.”
On that note, l’shanah tova tikatevu, a traditional greeting that means “May you be inscribed for a good New Year.”
Ellie S. Grossman is a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her two children, toy poodle named Luci, and her husband, but not necessarily in that order. Feel free to send any comments, prayers or recipes to