This year, seasons and holidays may feel like a shadow of what they used to be. Will we be doing the same Zoom events in autumn with a pumpkin spice latte instead of a green tea?
Some parents and bloggers stretched their creativity to offer ideas from their own traditions and families for ways to engage kids this High Holiday season in new, fun ways. And all without a Zoom link.
Teaching Tunisian traditions
Huppit Bartov Miller, 42, of Owings Mills, recommends the kitchen as an ideal place to share memories with kids, teach about history and make new traditions.
Bartov Miller started her cooking blog, Afooda, about five years ago to strengthen her roots to tradition. She had just become a mom of twins and had to shift her career to motherhood. Used to being on her feet as an educator, she wanted a way to stay active at home.
She also hoped it might help her become a good mother, grow close to her kids and reconnect with her history.
“I grew up without a mother,” Bartov Miller shared. “My dad raised us three daughters in Israel. He showed us that tradition really brings our family together. So as I became a mom, I wanted to make something huge of it, [too].”
Her family, who had moved to Israel from Tunisia, kept their Sephardic culture alive through holiday and Shabbat meals.
“It’s expressed mainly in dishes and foods with the community,” she said. “So I thought there’s a lot of magic to this.”
Bartov Miller mainly writes about Tunisian dishes like shakshuka, but as she writes these recipes, she ends up creating new ones.
“Sometimes old traditions become new traditions through a dish. So a dish can be an inspiration to talk about tradition, or the opposite: that it makes a new tradition born.”
It’s important for her to have these moments with her kids.
“I have great memories helping my grandmother cooking growing up. She always found ways to get us involved with little tasks like peeling garlic.” This is something she has her kids do, too. “It’s something that really warms the heart.”
Her twin girls, 10, usually help out with taste testing. Her son, 8, is the top chef.
“He’s the guy who will be cooking with me from beginning and doing the dishes afterward,” Bartov Miller said.
Whether it’s letting them lick a spoon, set the table, grocery shop or meal plan, food preparation is a great holiday activity to get the kids involved.
“It’s special and memorable,” Bartov Miller said. “It’s something I love and is really magical. It’s something we were given but we also make it part of our lives and contribute to it, add to it. It’s old and new.”
Bartov Miller also entertains the kids with gardening.
“Gardening is one of my favorite activities, especially these days,” she said. “It is peaceful and rewarding.”
Last year, her family made about $180 on pepper plants and donated the money to the Ashkelon Educational Farm.
Another activity Bartov Miller recommends is religious traditions. For example, one way her
family reflects on the past year is to have the kids collect household items.
“I ask my family to find an item they can relate to. You can bring a remote control and say they wish to watch less TV,” she said.
In Tunisian tradition, they pray to get rid of the negative things in their life, and then have dishes that bring positive blessings to replace it. These are called simanim.
Talya Knable started her parenting blog, The Mother Fix, a little more than two years ago, when her daughter was born.
“I was feeling very alone parenting two small children,” she said. “I’m a therapist, and so I was pathologically aware that many people were going through it, too, so I wanted to create a space for them to connect and be aware that we’re not alone.”
Knable bonds with her kids during High Holidays by apple stamping and apple picking.
“I’m actually in the process of cleaning the kitchen right now from that this morning. It’s not super high mess, and it’s good for Rosh Hashanah,” she said.
She also loves apple picking because it can be social and refreshing to be outside in the colorful leaves.
“It’s a wonderful way to get them doing something related to the religion but is not super religious. During services, they’re usually just waiting for it to be over, so we want to instill the culture with something they want to look forward to, not avoid.”
She plans to do a lot of hiking this year and get the kids in nature.
“This year, a lot of families are trying to do outside dinners, too,” she said. “We love the synagogue playground. I don’t know if it’s an option right now, but it’s a good way to get them in the environment and in a different space.”
She also loves to use books as a way to get the children engaged in religion.
“If they’ve read about it. then they get excited for the tradition to come up,” she said.
Julie Altman Wolff launched her parenting blog, Ugly Underbelly, on Mother’s Day of 2016. She had just attended her second daughter’s kindergarten Mother’s Day tea.
“All the moms go in with these big hats, and the kids write these books with pictures. On a page under the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ My daughter had written ‘I want to be a writer like my mommy.’” Altman Wolff never saw herself as a writer before, but two days later, she had her own blog about parenthood.
For the High Holidays, Altman Wolff will post more about what she calls the beautiful chaos of being home with five kids.
“My house is a perpetual party,” she joked.
She said the key to enjoying this year’s holidays is to find the funny moments in every day.
“I believe we can all feel better if we can just look at our daily routines and find one moment that stands out as funny or special, and be mindful of those,” she said.
In terms of crafts, Altman Wolff likes to find ways to incorporate the kitchen. For the little ones, she lets them dip apple slices in paint and make shapes on a paper, like butterflies or stars.
“I don’t know, it sometimes looks like a blob to me. But in their eyes it’s a masterpiece so we’ll do that,” she laughed. “And I’ll let them cut tiny [pieces] with childproof knives, which are absolutely terrible at cutting but don’t slice my children’s fingers.”
She also tries to find activities that are good for all ages, given her kids are 11, 9, 7 and twins aged 2. One way to get the whole family doing an activity together is baking contests.
“The kids are obsessed with those cooking challenge shows. So I’ll put like honey on counter and say come up with your own breakfast or dessert,” she said. “My husband and I are the judges, it’s a whole 90-minute event that we all get a huge kick out of.”
The kids will come up with their own recipes, which is rewarding for everyone.
“You know, they don’t make a cookbook, but one kid was like, ‘Can we put cookies in a toaster?’ So we sprayed them with Pam and put them in, and they actually were delicious,” Altman Wolff said. “They got a little crusty, and it was really fulfilling for a 7 year old to make up an idea on her own and do it by herself and have her siblings call it delicious.”
For activities to focus more on the religion, she emphasizes reflection.
“We try to talk to them about the meaning of apologies for Yom Kippur, and thinking about things you may not feel good about and letting go — here’s my mental health background speaking — of guilt,” she said. This resonates with kids regardless of their age, as “sorry” is one of the first words they learn. Altman Wolff encourage them to turn their feelings into actions. “My 7 year old likes to make bracelets for those to say sorry to, with a note that says I appreciate you. It’s mostly for other siblings, there’s a lot they need to apologize to each other for.”
Altman Wolff is used to going New York to visit family for tashlich, the ceremony to send off negativities to the water. Though they won’t be able to this year, she and her family will continue to find new ways to celebrate.
All about the art
Jessica Salis Howe of Pikesville, mom to a 4 and 6 year old, loves to get creative with household crafts. Salis Howe is a photographer who is known in her circle for her crafty projects.
One activity she recommends is to take coffee filters, draw on them with markers, dip them in water and then make stain glass shapes like fish or pomegranates out of them, which can be hung on a string for decoration. A lot of crafts don’t require expensive supplies. Salis Howe, for example, also loves to collect things in nature to use for arts.
In another craft, she takes paper plates and cuts them into dove shapes. In one craft, they cut the paper plate into pieces, then color in the nose tip, and glue an eye. Leaves and twigs can be collected outside for the dove to hold in its beak. Feathers can also be glued on it.
For a colorful craft, she recommends parents gather bright construction paper and cut them into 10 1-inch strips, and cut green leaves out of the paper, too. Then take the strips, and two roundhead fasteners. Hold the strips together at one end, and fasten one gold round head to keep them together. Fan them apart and bend inwards to create an apple shape. Add the leaves, and then fasten the second round head to close the apple.
“There’s a lot of very cool things you can do with multiple ages,” she noted.
The ultimate takeaway for her is to be able to celebrate a new year and start a renewal with the family.
“The whole world has gone through a little renewal,” she said. “This [pandemic] has been a reality check to appreciate the little things. Some people had lost their perspective. If you’re healthy, and the family is OK, and you have the basics, then appreciate and focus on that. The whole planet has gone through this period of reflection together.