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Lockdown Rosh Hashanah can still be child’s play

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Who would ever have thought when we went into lockdown on Pesach, we would still be reeling from the effects of COVID-19 at Rosh Hashanah?

My wife and I originate from the United Kingdom. The first year in our role as Chabad emissaries here in South Africa, we were very excited about Rosh Hashanah. As we started calling people to join us as guests for the meals over theyom tov, almost everyone gave the same response, “Thanks rabbi, but we are going to family.” It blew us away. While Rosh Hashanah is celebrated universally in the same way – by going to shul, hearing the shofar, apples dipped in honey, and the like – the family centred theme that Rosh Hashanah has here is a true testament of the unique closeness of the Jewish community in South Africa.

But where does that leave us this year? While in level two, family visits are allowed, many won’t be spending Rosh Hashanah with their families, and shuls won’t be having elaborate children’s programmes on the day. How will our children react to this? But more significantly, what sort of message can we give them to really appreciate the importance of the day?

One of the prayers we say at this time of the year is Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King). If we look at the wording of this prayer, it perfectly captures our relationship with G-d. If we relate to Him as a father, we may think that our sins are easily forgiven, which might lead to negligence in fulfilling His commands. If we view G-d exclusively as an all-powerful king, we may not understand that He cares about us on a personal level. Our relationship with G-d is uniquely two-fold: we are his children, yet we are also his subjects. He loves us the way a father loves his children and forgives their transgressions. At the same time, like all monarchs, He sets rules for us that are meant to connect us to Him.

Parents always want the very best for their children, but like all humans, a parent is limited in their ability to resolve every challenge. G-d, on the other hand, is all-knowing and all-powerful. He can resolve any difficulty. We may think, “I don’t have such a great track record, why would G-d want to help me if I’m not so connected to him?” Since G-d is both our father and our king, we can rest assured that he is able to resolve each and every issue we face.

Having said that, for a lot of children, the themes behind Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur simply go straight over their heads. Many feel that these holidays of atonement are just for adults. However, children are never too young to learn the valuable lessons of forgiveness and transformation.

The best way to inspire children is through tangible experiences that will connect all of their senses to the traditions. Parents can show children that the high holy days aren’t only important, but fun.

Bring the traditions alive for them in whatever setting this Rosh Hashanah brings. Let them enjoy the honey dripping off the apple; let them show their excitement when hearing the shofar; but even better than just watching them enjoying the traditions of the day, let them see you, the parents, showing equal excitement. When they see how much the day means to you, and the joy that comes with it, it will affect them too. It won’t end up being just be another day off school or another yom tov meal.

As parents, we know how exasperating it is to watch a child struggle with issues that we can’t resolve for them. When our children are young, most of their problems can be fixed, but as they grow older, they face obstacles that may be beyond our capability to help with. It’s at this stage that our children begin to learn that they can no longer rely exclusively on their parents. If we have made their Judaism fun and enriching, we can hope that at this stage, they start to turn directly to their heavenly father and king.

Please G-d, before we even get to Rosh Hashanah this year, we will all be celebrating without masks, social distancing and worry, in Jerusalem with the coming of moshiach!

  • Rabbi Pini Pink is the rabbi at Chabad Greenstone.

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