In the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah, students at Valley Jewish day schools hear shofar blasts each morning.
Observing the custom of blowing the shofar each day for the month of Elul, the month preceding Tishrei, the start of the Jewish New Year, is one way that schools prepare their students for the High Holidays.
At the Phoenix Hebrew Academy, an eighth-grader blows the shofar each morning. At Yeshiva High School of Arizona (YHSA), students hear the shofar after the morning prayers and get a chance to blow it themselves and learn the meaning behind the different sounds.
At Desert Jewish Academy in Chandler, students will make shofars out of paper towel rolls and at Torah Day School of Phoenix (TDSP), students will make them by sawing, drilling, sanding and polishing goat horns. Students at Lubavitch Cheder of Arizona will learn how to make a shofar and how to blow them.
At Pardes Jewish Day School in Scottsdale, students hear the blasts over the PA system as they count down the days until Rosh Hashanah begins.
But these sounds are not the only signs of holiday preparation.
Students at the Phoenix Hebrew Academy are “working on ways to develop and nurture positive relationships with their parents, morahs (teachers) and peers, as well as creating holiday-themed projects to bring home and use with their families,” according to Rabbi Yisroel Weiner, principal of Phoenix Hebrew Academy. These projects include honey bowls and challah plates made out of challah.
Cheder Lubavitch uses hands-on and interactive learning so students “can come to the holidays knowing what’s going on and what things represent,” said Rabbi Sendy Wilschanski, the school’s principal. Younger children make bookmarks to mark prayers in the Machzor (High Holiday prayer book) and make honey jars for their holiday tables. They will also make slippers for Yom Kippur, as they learn about not wearing leather shoes.
During the week before Rosh Hashanah, YHSA students spiritually prepare by saying selichos each day, said Rabbi Shagra Yankelewitz, a teacher at the school. Selichos are Jewish penitential poems and prayers.
They also learn about the meanings of different High Holiday customs and liturgy to help them become more familiar with the High Holiday service, Yankelewitz added.
TDSP students will visit a local park to perform the customary tashlich ritual. After that, the students will have a chance to visit the playground and ball fields, which helps create positive associations with this annual tradition, noted Rabbi Gedalia Goldstein, TDSP director of programming. Tashlich is a customary atonement ritual that involves symbolically casting sins into a body of water.
At Pardes, students will perform the ritual of tashlich by tossing birdseed into a children’s pool filled with water.
“I’m trying to bring Judaism to life,” said Mitch Flatow, Pardes assistant head of school and director of Jewish life. “Instead of learning about what tashlich is, “they’re actually getting to experience it.”
At Desert Jewish Academy (DJA) in Chandler, students will create and decorate challah covers while solidifying the meaning and traditions behind Rosh Hashanah, according to Cody Lillie, DJA marketing director.
“We are focusing this year on the main traditions, values and themes that families focus on during these holidays,” Lillie said.
DJA’s main theme for each holiday is “to find a way to connect it to community love and giving through mitzvahs,” Lillie wrote in an email. “Each student also is collecting tzedakah that we will be donating to a charity at the end of the year.”
This year, Pardes is introducing a family component to the school’s holiday programming, by inviting families to an after-school celebration of Rosh Hashanah, which will include hearing the shofar and saying the blessings for apples and honey. Participants also will make New Year greeting cards that will be delivered to Jewish seniors as part of the eighth-graders’ Better Together program with the Bureau of Jewish Education.
TDSP students will witness a mock demonstration of Kapparot, a customary Jewish atonement ritual practiced on the eve of Yom Kippur that often uses a live chicken (some observe the ritual with money instead).
Immediately after Yom Kippur, YHSA students quickly move onto the next holiday, Sukkot, as they will begin their annual tradition of helping members of the community build their sukkah. JN