The apples have been cheerfully dipped in honey. The round challot (traditional bread eaten on Shabbat and holidays) have been beautifully created and eagerly eaten. The Sukkot (booths erected for the holiday of Sukkot) have been enthusiastically decorated. The lulav and etrog (four species used during Sukkot) have been eagerly shaken. The past year has been thoughtfully reflected upon, and the goals and family values have been laid out for the coming year.
But what now? After several weeks of preparation – both in terms of the physical preparations of cooking and eating and decorating as well as the spiritual and mental preparations of reflecting and repenting and teaching – we are done with the holiday season and left with a bit of a void, wondering, “What now?”
The free time is nice, yes. The regular school schedule and ability to get back into routine is wonderful, definitely. But there is something to be said about the structure and traditions that come along with the month of Tishrei, no matter how exhausting they may be.
The holidays give us a recipe for connecting with our traditions and with our families. And they provide ample opportunities to show our kids just how fun Judaism can be, providing lots of different ways to anyone to get connected.
Fortunately, however, Judaism extends beyond these holidays that we know and love so well, and here are just a few suggestions to help keep those warm and fuzzy feelings that you’ve cultivated over the last few weeks going long into the new year.
Stick to your resolutions – Did you and/or family make any resolutions for the new year? Did you decide to focus on a specific value? Did you take on a mitzvah project or commit to any other endeavor for the coming year? If so, make a plan to stick to it, and make your time dedicated to those resolutions special. Dedicate a section of your fridge space to updates, progress, and reminders. Set aside time each week to continue the conversations that you began over these past few holidays. Make these resolutions a real priority as reflected in the physical space of your home and/or your family’s schedule in order to set yourself up for success and really keep the feelings of the holidays going.
Prepare for Chanukah, Purim, and Passover – Yes, the spiritual side of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur might be stronger, but holidays like Chanukah, Purim, and Passover provide a myriad of opportunities for family time and fun. org does a wonderful job of disseminating information about different activities and programs year-round, and the times around each of these holidays tend to be full of choices. These holidays also provide opportunities for you, as a family, to create your own family traditions. Start thinking now about how to make Chanukah more meaningful by integrating tzedakah-giving in with your gift giving. Don’t forget about how fun it can be bake hamentaschen with your kids in order to include in Mishloach Manot during the time of Purim. Collect stories and thoughts to integrate into your Passover Seder. By starting now, these holidays won’t creep up on you and will allow you to feel more prepared when they occur.
Connect to the lesser-known holidays – Although holidays like Tu B’Shevat, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Shavuot may not always be on your radar, they each provide their own opportunities to get into the holiday spirit. Tu B’Shevat is a great time to connect to the environment, plant trees, and try different fruits. Yom Ha’Atzmaut reminds us of our ties to Israel and is a great chance to introduce your kids to falafel. Shavuot, in addition to being a wonderful excuse to eat a lot of cheesecake, can be an opening to talk about the Torah and the commandments and how we integrate them into our lives today. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed because you’ve never heard of these families, a quick internet search on sites like com will provide you plenty of background information to help make these holidays your own.
Take advantage of Shabbat – While we do spend a time and energy preparing for Rosh HaShanah, it’s really Shabbat that is the cornerstone of the Jewish calendar. Shabbat provides a weekly chance to recharge and reconnect. As Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927 Zionist thinker) said, “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” So consider how to make Shabbat special for your family. Set aside time Friday night for a family dinner following by board games, take a walk around the neighborhood on Saturday afternoon, get involved in a synagogue or Temple community and see what they offer for kids and/or young families on Shabbat, invite family and friends to your home to celebrate Shabbat, start learning the parsha stories with your kids each week and discuss how the lessons of the Torah are still applicable to us today.
For many of us who are just getting back into the swing of things post-holidays, adding more to our plates might seem like an impossible task…so start with one of these suggestions (or another idea that really resonates with you), and see how it goes. Experts say that it takes a minimum of 21 days to create a new habit or routine, so make sure to commit yourself for a sufficient amount of time before giving up on the idea in order to honestly assess the effectiveness for your family. Adding new routines to hectic family lives is never easy, but by actively working to keep that holiday spirit alive, those feelings and efforts that we made over the last few weeks can last longer than the honey stuck under the table…and it just might make next year’s honey taste a little more sweet.
Dr. Sarah Levy has been involved in the field of Jewish education for nearly fifteen years, currently serving at the Director of Adult Education for the Colorado Agency for Education. She lives in Denver with her husband, Benny, and their four kids.