Subtopic: Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year)
Grade level: 4-5
Author: Amy J. Robinson
Rosh Hashanah is one of the holiest days of the Jewish year. This holiday is difficult to understand because it is not a celebration of some historical event; rather, it celebrates a human being's ability to grow and change. From the first day of Rosh Hashanah to the beginning of Yom Kipperare called the High Holy Days or Days of Awe and are a time for deep thought,self-examination, and prayer. Rosh Hashanah is the time that Jewish people believe that God will judge all of the their deeds for the preceding year. During this time you must take certain steps to correct the mistakes you have made throughout the past year. These steps include: repentance, prayer, and charity. Because of the sacredness of this holiday, no work is permitted during Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Year occurs on the first and second days of Tishri which coincides with September or early October. Unlike most New Year celebrations, Rosh Hashanah begins on the first day of the seventhmonth (Tishri) on the Jewish calendar. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." The Bible refers to the holiday as "Yom Ha-Zikkaron" (the day of remembrance) or "Yom Teruah" (the day of the sounding of the shofar). Rosh Hashanah is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25.
Hearing the sounding of the shofar is the first commandment on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is a ram's horn, a three-thousand-year-old musical instrument that is blown into like a trumpet. One hundred notes are blown on the shofar in the synagogue on each day of Rosh Hashanah. The high-pitched blasts of the shofar make an urgent sound that remind all that hear it to reflect on the past year and the year to come. Jews believe that the blasts of the shofar revitalize the soul and intelligence of all Jews that listen to it's blasts during Rosh Hashanah.
Throughout Rosh Hashanah no bitter or sour food is eaten. People eat foods including a sweet bread called challah, pomegranates, and apples dipped in honey. Sweet food is eaten throughout this holiday, symbolizing the desire to have a new year filled with sweetness.
Tashlikh or "casting off" is a popular practice during Rosh Hashanah. The people walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah and empty their pockets or throw bread crumbs into the river, symbolically casting off their sins. This tradition has no reference in the Bible, but plays an important role in the celebration of Rosh Hashanah for many Jews.
During Rosh Hashanah the people are encouraged to think only good thoughts and to be kind to all those around them. The common greeting during Rosh Hashanah is "L'shanah tovah" meaning "for a good year." This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."
Rosh Hashanah will begin on the following days:
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Cohen, H. & Coffin, P. (1987). The folklore of American holidays, first edition. Detroit, MI: Book Tower.
Dobler, L. (1962). Customs and holidays around the world. New York, NY: Fleet Publishing Co.
Drucker, M. (1994). The family treasury of Jewish holidays. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.
Jewish calendar (1996).
Jewish communication network
(1996). [On-line]. Available:
Kimmel, E. (1991). Days of awe. New York, NY: Viking.
Kindersley, B. & Kindersley, A. (1995). Children just like me. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc.
Nathan, J. (1995). The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen. New York, NY: Schocken Books.
Virtual Jerusalem City Services
(1996). [On-line]. Available:
Volpe, L. (1996). High Holidays on
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Time Allotment: 2-3 days
Happy New Year! by Emery Bernhard
poster-board or butcher paper
A. Brainstorm. Ask students to identify a few special celebrations or traditions with which they are familiar. Write these on the board.
B. Think-Pair Share. Show "Traditions," a song, from the video, Fiddler on the Roof (also available on compact disc or cassette). Instruct each child to think about one or two celebrations and special things they do during that celebration. Have the students pair up and share their ideas with their teammate. Invite students to share their ideas with the class.
C. Mini-lecture/discussion. Talk about how religion has influenced the traditions and celebrations that the children shared in previous activities (see above). Explain that the Jewish faith is one of the oldest religions in the world and that Jewish people have many celebrations and traditions. Show where Israel is on a map and explain that this place was once the center of the Jewish people, but today Jewish people are found in countries around the world. Discuss reasons why the Jewish people have moved all around theworld (religious persecution).
D. Literature Activity. Read the book Happy New Year! by Emery Bernhard. (This book talks about New Year celebrations from several cultures and their similarities and differences, but focuses on these celebrations being a time of hope and looking towards the future.) Ask the students to think about why they think New Year celebrations are important and then write or draw their ideas on a piece of paper. Allow time for children to share theirthoughts with the class.
E. Jigsaw. Divide the class into groups with 3 children in each group (this is their home group). Assign each child in the group a number (1-3). Break the students up into "expert" groups according to their numbers. Give each group information to research and learn about Rosh Hashanah.
Group 1: food eaten during holiday
Group 2: Shofar
Group 3: "casting off"
After students have had sufficient time to research and discuss their topic in their "expert" group have students return to their home group and share information with other students. To assess and insure student participation give a short oral or written quiz at the end of this activity. (The Virtual Jerusalem City Services home page on the internet offers a quiz on Rosh Hashanah written for children. This quiz could easily be adapted to fit your classroom needs. The address is: http://www.jer1.co.il/holidays/rosh/poll.htm.)
F. Writing Activity. Explain that at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah people eat apples dipped in honey. Talk about how this is symbolic of having a sweet new year. Ask the children to think about what having a sweet new year means to them and have them write several of their ideas on a piece of paper. Using the ideas they have generated have students write a poem about what their sweet new year might be like.
G. Carousel Activity. Divide class into four equal groups. Give each group a number or name. Post large pieces of paper or poster board around the room with one the following questions:
1. Why is giving service important?
2. What ways can you serve others?
3. What things have people done to serve you?
4. How does service make you feel (as the giver and the receiver)?
Give each group a different color of marker and assign one group to each question. Allow students 2-3 minutes to answer the question and write responses. Signal students to move clock-wise to the next poster (like a carousel) until each group has had the opportunity to respond to each question. Remind students as they move to each poster not to write anything that has already been written. Discuss the results of the carousel. Explain that charity or service is a very important part of Rosh Hashanah. On every Sabbath and holiday, even the poorest Jew must set aside something for someone with less.
H. Service Activity. Ask students to think of different ways your class can help or serve people in the community, in your school, at home, etc. Write student responses on the board. Discuss how time, money and travel might effect their choice. Have children put their heads down on desks and take a "blind" vote to decide on a service project your class will do. As your class does the service project, have the students keep a journal of the service they are involved in and how they feel throughout the project.
I. Open Discussion. After all the previous activities are successfullycompleted ask the students to respond by writing a few paragraphs to the following question. "What do you know about the traditions of Rosh Hashanah?"