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High Holiday Torah Services – Educators’ Discussion

Discussion from March 2003

Vicki Phillips, B’nai Havurah, Denver, CO

Greetings Edtalkers,

This is Vicki from B’nai Havurah in Denver, Colorado. I am on the Children’s High Holiday Programming committee. I have been involved with this committee on and off for about the last 8 years. I am currently asking for your input on what your synagogue does/offers for youth, grades kindergarten through 6th or 7th grade (B’nai Mitzvah) during the Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Services.

Since I’ve been involved, we have offered everything from an abbreviated “children’s service” that begins about 45 minutes into the main service and ends about an hour later, to offering a range of “workshops” or programs that have a high holiday theme. Examples include midrash read-aloud/discussion, “Jewish Jeopardy,” high holiday hallah baking lesson, Jewish game room, Torah discussion/role playing (older kids), crafts, etc.

The consensus with the current committee is that there is a growing interest in moving back to the “service” option. What we don’t want to do, however, is create a service that is redundant for the kids since most of them will be coming from a main service already in progress. We’re interested in creating a simultaneous service for the younger audience that is age appropriate, engaging, enjoyable, meaningful and able to retain the children’s attention for at least 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours.

What do you do? Perhaps you have a highlight, or a successful component of your program. I know that it’s a little early in the year, but we are determined to make a change that will no doubt take time to design.

Thanks for your input,

Donna Adler, B’nai Tikvah, West Chester, OH

Dear Vicki,

I have done a service for the kids for about 15 years. I always have stories that go along with the theme of a prayer, a play with hand puppets, discussion, movement and songs that go with the prayers. The service takes 21/2 hours. The kids start off in the main congregation and leave when the Torah is read. At the kid’s service we also do the Torah reading. What seems to work is to change activities and to be sure there is movement every 15 minutes. I use B’chol L’vavcha as a base and each year I collect stories. One year we “read” Arnie and the Magic Markers, which talks about Arnie stealing markers. We convened a bet din before hearing the book’s solution, and the kids had to decide a reasonable consequence. I included rabbis’ commentary. I’ve used Bernstein Bears books, Sandy Sasso’s books, The Old Turtle, Rabbi Marc Gelman’s midrashim, The Shiny Fish story (I can’t remember the exact title) all with themes relating to the High Holy Days and then I bring it into their lives. I have to have several possibilities available because some years the kids are 5-10 year olds and some years they are 4-6 years old. I never know in advance. So, I have activities ready for all age groups. Throughout the years I have gathered material from lots of sources. I hope that this is helpful. If you want more specifics, let me know.

Education Director

Shoshana Silberman, ACAJE, Philadelphia, PA

I have created a High Holiday Mahzor for students and families, entitled Tiku Shofar. It includes graphics (which match certain prayers) to grab attention, but most important, lots of commentaries ,activities , poems and stories to make the service lively and interesting. Although published by the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Ed., I think you may find it useful. It’s used by a number of Reform and Reconstructionist educators/places. If they have already done a “service”, you can just use the supplements. It is designed so that everything needed is there for the leader. I wrote this for my own school, when I had the problem you described.

Shoshana Silberman
Consultant for Recontructionist Ed.

May-June 2004

The discussion continued in May 2004 when a new request was made for resources and ideas. Shoshana Silberman mentioned her Mahzor again and Mary Meyerson, Goldie Milgram and Sally Brown-Winter wrote in with their praise for Tiku Shofar.

Ruth Mermelstein, Or Hadash, Fort Washington, PA

I co-lead children’s services on 2nd day RH. It’s a smaller crowd, so this service can be more participatory. Every child has a parent or other adult to supervise them besides the leaders.

We use a simple Mahzor created by one of our older students as a Bat Mitzvah project – but you can use any source. We have index cards by the door with “Shema”, “Aleynu”, “Aliyah”, “Torah lifter (must be adult)”, etc. written on them. Children or families pick them up on their way in. They lead whatever they picked up. The leaders lead only the lesser-known or unchosen prayers. My co-leader is a great story teller. He tells a story in lieu of a sermon. There might be brief discussion afterwards. “Did this ever happen to you?”

We do an abbreviated Torah service – one Aliyah – just so they see the ritual. All children crowd around the Torah so they can see the letters and the Yad following the words. They count how many Avraham’s they hear on one hand, and how many Yitzhak’s they hear on the other. They are very attentive.

We have an abbreviated shofar service. We explain the 3 different notes. We line up one young shofar blower in advance who we know can really do it right. Then any other child who thinks they can do it may also try. We have more Tekeiah’s than anything else. Families often bring their own shofar. After services a few more kids might try. (This is a result of the leader not being allowed to try when she was a girl in a Conservative synagogue.) The service is over before the adult service gets to the shofar blowing, so many kids go to that, too.

Our teenagers go to the adult service except for a 1-hour discussion group planned and led by one or two members of the most recent confirmation class. Adults are not present.

Ruth Mermelstein

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