Author Archives: Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler

About Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is the Director of Jewish Family Learning & Life at West End Synagogue, A Reconstructionist Congregation in Manhattan. She has her M.A. in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary. She is also a senior editor of and Director of Programming for Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.

Edible Art for Tu Bishvat

The primary observances of Tu Bishvat might center around eating fruit, but there are plenty of other creative things to do with fruit–before you consume it. Whether you’re looking for something artsy and tasty to do with the kids, or you want to add elegance and flair to your Tu Bishvat seder , here are five ways to create attractive displays of your favorite fruits.

Geometric Nut Mosaic

-1/2 cup each of almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, and brazil nuts (shells removed)
-a flat pan or plate with four or more sides (such as a square or a hexagon)
Pick one type of nut and use it to create a border along the sides of the plate. Then take another type of nut and place it in each corner; also put this nut in the center. Connect each corner nut to the center with lines of nuts. You should now have outlines of triangles that meet in the middle (on a square plate you’ll have four triangles, on a hexagonal plate you’ll have eight).

Carefully fill in each triangle, using either one kind of nut in each section, or creating patterns of nuts.

Rainbow Fruit Mandala

A mandala is a concentric diagram–usually very colorful–with ritual and spiritual significance in Buddhism and Islam. In various spiritual traditions, people create mandalas to focus their own attention, establish sacred space, or aid in meditation. 

orange mandala

Orange Mandala

Though mandalas are often made from colored sand, the mandala described below uses colored fruit. You can try to adopt a meditative approach during this activity. In a group, have each person makes his/her own small mandala while the entire group sings a niggun (wordless melody) together. 

-Three or more types of fruit, chopped into bite-sized pieces (try to use different colored fruits)
-Large circular platters or individual round plates

Instructions: Similar to the nut mosaic above, start by creating a border of one type of fruit. Then, from the middle, use the pieces of fruit to create a design. You can align the fruit to depict a picture, or create an abstract pattern.

Yom Kippur For Children

When is Yom Kippur 2015? Click here to find out!

For most adults, the central experience of Yom Kippur is fasting. By abstaining from food and drink, we exercise control over our bodies and do not give in to our most basic impulses. This makes it pretty easy to feel the “affliction” that the Torah mandates. But parents sometimes find it difficult to include children in the holiday observances, since anyone under the age of 13 is not required to fast.

Here are some ways you can help your children have a meaningful Yom Kippur by teaching them disciplined, controlled behavior, as well as the meanings behind the rituals.

Fasting for Those Under 13

Children can develop a sense of what fasting symbolizes if they are involved in their parents’ or older siblings’ fasting experience. The seudah mafseket (pre-fast meal), as well as the break-fast meal, should be a special gathering for the whole family–fasters and non-fasters together.

During Yom Kippur, you can share your feelings about fasting with your children. If you’re not feeling well, your kids might surprise you with how sympathetic they are, and how helpful they can be. Children nearing the age of 13 can fast a few hours to prepare for their forthcoming adult responsibilities.

You can have your children eat on Yom Kippur together with elderly or sick people who are also not fasting. This way, meals are likely to be eaten in a holiday spirit, complete with blessings before and after. Those who are not fasting should make Kiddush over grape juice or wine to sanctify the day, and add a special line in Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal.

child cleaning up toys

Alternatives to Fasting

While fasting from food and drink may be the most well-known of the Yom Kippur rituals, there are several other opportunities for individuals of all ages to “afflict their souls” on this day. It is appropriate for children who are not fasting to still refrain from bathing and using creams or lotions.

Also, children can participate in the custom to abstain from wearing leather shoes, and it can be particularly meaningful to them if you explain why.

Shavuot Activities for Kids

The holiday of Shavuot tends to lack many of the kid-friendly themes that are part of the richness of other holidays. Here are a number of ways that we can connect our children and students to this special holiday.

Camp Out or Camp-In: Leil Shavuot

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai. Having journeyed from Rephidim, they entered the wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the wilderness. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain, and Moses went up to God. (Exodus 19:1-3)

Re-enact the Israelites camping at the foot of Sinai with your own camp out, weather permitting. Too cold or rainy? Pitch a tent indoors or building one with chairs and blankets. Invite friends for a sleepover, or sleep there with the whole family! Stay up late telling stories–from the giving of the Torah, to the book of Ruth, to memories of camping. Wake up to the sound of a shofar or other horn blasts.

Bikkurim: Grain & Fruit

Shavuot marks the end of the grain season and the beginning of the fruit season. It follows seven weeks of harvesting barley (or, in modern times, counting the omer).

camping kidsThe following five activities are connected to grain and fruit.

Shewbreads: A Celebration of Wheat

“You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves, two-tenths of a measure for each loaf. Place them on the pure table before the Lord in two rows, six to a row… He shall arrange them before the Lord regularly every sabbath day– it is a commitment for all time on the part of the Israelites… They shall belong to Aaron and his sons, who shall eat them in the sacred precinct; for they are his as most holy things from the Lord’s offerings by fire, a due for all time.” (Leviticus 24:5-9)

Preparing “holy” bread in honor of the Sabbath is a great mitzvah. In honor of the wheat season and the Shavuot holiday , why not bake your own challah? If you have time, purchase some whole wheat berries and grind them yourself, so you can see what the inside looks like. The shell is called the bran and the brown spec in the center is the germ. White flour is made by separating out the bran and the germ until you are left with only “choice flour.” Make extras for neighbors, friends or your freezer.

Engaging with Elul as a Family

When is Rosh Hashanah 2015? Find out here. Or wondering when is Yom Kippur 2015? Click here to find out!

The Jewish month of Elul precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In order to observe these High Holidays in the most meaningful way, we must adequately prepare ourselves during Elul. This article gives a brief background on some of the traditional customs and legends connected to the month of Elul, as well as suggestions for how to engage these rituals as a family. Doing these simple family activities during the month of Elul is a great way to spend time together and teaches our children that as Jews, we live our lives in sync with our own special calendar.

The Sound of the Shofar: Wake up and Listen!


man blowing shofar

Gather your family around to blow the shofar

On weekday mornings during the month of Elul, the daily prayer service ends with a single blast of the shofar. The extreme volume of the blast peaks our senses, serving as a daily reminder that Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, is on its way. We must focus our souls, take stock of the year, and reach deep down into our hearts to ask for forgiveness. The call of this horn also reminds us that our words–our sounds– have extreme power. Listening to the voice of the shofar, we are reminded that we too must listen to pleas of forgiveness. With simple phrases–“I’m sorry” or “I forgive you”–we can repair broken relationships, or deepen our most meaningful human connections.

As a Family

Blowing a shofar or even a symbolic toy horn each morning as you count the days of Elul is a great way to gather the family together before a busy day. Whether everyone is going their separate ways to school and work, or the family is setting off together for a day at the beach, setting aside a few moments for this ritual can engage your children’s interest in this important season.

Talk to your children about the concept of “forgiveness.” As the month progresses, leave a few minutes after the shofar blowing to talk about forgiveness among enemies, friends, family, and even between God and the individual. Take time for personal reflection, including writing or meditation. Encourage your kids to share their goals for asking and receiving forgiveness, and share your own as well. Check in as the month goes on, offering praise for diligence and progress.