Temple Israel in Long Beach did not have a sanctuary large enough to accommodate everyone for the High Holy Days, so services were held downtown at a very large church. There were no alternative services for children held in the morning. From an early age, everyone attended the “adult” services.
Was I moved by the prayers offered on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Was I inspired by the soaring music sung by the cantor and choir? Was I spellbound by the sermons offered by my rabbi? These are rhetorical questions.
As a kid, I didn’t grasp the content of the High Holy Days. The prayers, the music, the sermons were not oriented toward children. But I will say that despite these impediments, I did comprehend that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were indeed very special times.
Everyone was dressed-up very well. Even men who normally never donned a tie wore one for Yuntiff. People I hadn’t seen all summer were all there. Everyone was wishing each other L’shanah Tovah and women were hugging each other and men were shaking hands.
It made a big impression on me to see families seated together. There were moms, dads, and all their children. I remember High Holy Day services lasted a really long time. But most everyone remained well behaved. The few rascals who made too much noise were quickly shushed by everyone around them.
So why am I sharing these childhood memories of the High Holy Days with you? The point is that I have childhood memories being with my community for Yuntiff. The High Holy Days made an impression on me. I had a sense that we were all sharing something very special; even if I lacked the vocabulary at that time to describe what that “special” was. I knew that these were holy days, not only for me, but for my family, for my congregation, and even for Jews around the world.
At present, I am concerned that our children at Temple Beth Torah are not experiencing being part of a community during the Days of Awe. This year, Rosh Hashanah falls on a Thursday. Will children go to school on September 25 just like every other day? Will they go to their classes, listen to their teachers, and eventually come home and do their homework just like they did on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday? Will it be a day that is not distinguished in any way as special, different, or even holy?
At Temple, under the direction of Rabbi Eve with the creative in-put of Cheryl Cohen, we offer a wonderful enrichment program for students in grades K-5. On the mornings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, youngsters get to enjoy the holidays on a level appropriate for them. Through prayers, and songs, along with unique art projects, kids experience the specialness of the holy days. With apples dipped in honey, children taste the sweetness of Jewish life. With the sound of the shofar, kids hear that a new year has begun.
On the mornings of Yuntiff, the sight of children at Temple fills our hearts with joy. Let us create positive, meaningful experiences that will instill in them wonderful Jewish memories that last a lifetime.