Rosh Hashana: Activity Ideas for Class and Group

1. Name to Fame - Date of Fate


The name of the month, Tishrei, is of Babylonian origin and means "Beginning". Tishrei is the first month of the Jewish year.
In the Bible, Malachi I, Ch. VIII, v.2, we find another name for the month, "Yerach Eitanim" - the "moon of the stalwarts" - because our forefathers were born in this month - and they are the pillars of the world.

The zodiac sign for this month is scales or balances, presumably because day and night are of equal length. According to tradition, too, this is the month when the deeds of Creation are judged.

The first and second of Tishrei are the festival of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, ie, the day from which we calculate dates, and the beginning of the Ten Days of Penitence, also known as "Ben Kesseh Le'Assor", where Kesseh refers to Rosh Hashana and Assor to the tenth day, Yom Kippur, i.e. the "period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur".
Rosh Hashana is also - in itself - "The Day of Judgment".

On Rosh Hashana, too, our foremothers - Sarah and Rivka - conceived, as did Hannah, mother of the prophet Shemuel [Samuel].


Aim: Clarification and personalization of the meaning of Rosh Hashana, individually and at broader levels.

Suitability: 13/14 plus, students, family programmes.

Note: Divide into pairs for the first question; join 2 pairs for the second question; join two fours for the third question.

  1. Groups are given 2 minutes [or more] to answer each question.
  2. After the 3rd question is answered, bring everyone together to examine parallels and differences in individual and group responses. Attempt to draw basic categories; ask whether - as a result of the third question - there are any additions to the first response; examine implications of community upon the individual and vice versa. Discuss how idealistic/realistic the responses are...


  1. What do I wish myself for this year?
  2. What do I wish my family in the New Year?
  3. What do I wish my community and the People of Israel in the coming year?

Alternative Activity

Aim: Enable students to review personal development and achievement in Jewish terms; older students: self-evaluation as a key to future development; acknowledge student progress.

Suitability: From 10 onwards; older students at greater levels of sophistication.

Certificates of Merit, with student's names and space for two topics and a short comment, signed by an appropriate person [community figure, principal, madrich, teacher, even parent!]
Poster board for the whole room [see 1, below] and felt tip/marker pens. One enlarged copy of a blank certificate.

Note: You may decide to have students fill in the certificates themselves, or to have them filled in by the "office" [you!] and extend this activity into an award ceremony!

  1. Around the walls of the room, spread poster or brown paper with a column prepared for each participant. In the middle of one wall, hang an enlarged, blank certificate.
  2. Draw the group's attention to the blank certificate, and explain that everyone is going to get one for his or her achievements in the past year.
    Ask what sort of achievements these could be [brainstorm]. Our suggestions are:
    helping out at home; books read, behaviour to brothers & sisters; sport; youth club/movement participation; progress at school; volunteer work; brachot; special or outstanding behaviour to anyone...
  3. Privately, each student is asked to write down one or two topics he or she would like to see on their own certificate. These do not have to be revealed to the group at this stage, although the moderator should try to gain an impression and assist those having difficulty in finding a noteworthy item for their award.
  4. Divide the group into four. Each section is allotted one wall. Individually - absolutely without consultation - participants can write suggestions for award topics in the named columns on "their" wall only.
    The rule is that these topics can only be positive; try to ensure that participants take this seriously and that something goes down in every column.
  5. Now allow time for everyone to take a walk all the way around the room. Participants can compare what has been written about them with what they chose for themselves.
  6. With adolescents and young adults:
    Sit everyone down and ask if they learnt something new about how we see each other and how other people see themselves. What about how they see themselves? Did they receive any surprises? any helpful input?
    This section of the activity will require careful and balanced moderation!
  7. For everyone: Individuals now choose what they would like to have finally on their award certificate - and have them explain why.
  8. Award ceremony.

2. Sayers and Prayers

There are many notable moments in the special services for Rosh Hashana, which you may wish to list with an older class, and discuss what each portrays, what its main characteristics are, and what its function is - as relevant to your programme. We bring two major examples, below:


For younger children :

The Shofar

Aims: Bring children closer to the Rosh Hashana service; exploration and acquisition of significance of the service; provide hands-on experience.


  1. Invite a person who blows the shofar competently in the synagogue to your next class. Ask the person to prepare a few words about the origins of the shofar, how he feels when blowing it, its importance, etc. It should, ideally, be someone who is prepared to allow the children a try at blowing tekiyot!
  2. Prepare your class with questions they will want to ask - how to do it, how many times, when the shofar is blown, how to look after it...
  3. Prepare large posters of the Hebrew words [with transcription?] associated with the tekiyot.
  4. The encounter:
    Introduce the guest - let him introduce himself and blow the shofar, using the different tekiyot.
    Give the children a chance to ask questions before producing ready-made explanations: the guest should try to provide explanations only where questions are not forthcoming.
    Ask the children how they feel when they hear the shofar today, or on Rosh Hashana, then what they know about the origins of and reasons for blowing the shofar...
  5. The conclusion:
    Review what the children learnt and how they felt. Older primary schoolers can look at background books; younger children can do an art or visuals activity.

For intermediate or younger children:

Melody and Meaning

Aims: Improve acquaintance with the service; Hebrew language study; explain parallel of song with the Jewish people and G-d.


  1. Use enlarged text to study and teach the song "Haben yakir li Efrayim" and its literal meaning.
  2. Look up the original text, both in the Rosh Hashana Service for the second day, in the Haftara, and in the Book of Jeremiah Ch.31. Explain who Efrayim was and draw the parallel. Discuss G-d's love for His people.

For intermediate and older students:


Aim: Explore making decisions to change and contend with the implications at an individual and group level.

Preparation: Copies of the prayer; breadcrumbs in packets...

Note: The discussion can be commenced at a meeting prior to the ceremony or can be integrated with it. The issues are complementary to those presented in the first two activities, above.


  1. Discuss with the group/class what sort of general actions people would want to change or avoid in the coming year.
  2. Silently, individually, each participant reflects on one or any number of things they have done which they would like to erase or "throw away".
  3. Study the text and origins of the "TASHLICH" ceremony. Note that it is a very private act, compared - say - to the "VIDUI" [Confession] recited with the congregation in the Yom Kippur services. Discuss this different emphasis.
  4. After the Tashlich ceremony, discuss how people felt during it - and how they feel about the future [decisions, realism, willpower, freedom of choice...].

For teenagers:

Unetaneh Tokef

The "piyut" [liturgical poem] which is known by its first words "Unetaneh Tokef", was written by Rabbi Amnon of Magenza and its substance deals entirely with "KIDDUSH HASHEM", the Sanctification of G-d's Name, in public.

Use Rabbi Amnon's life story, study the text and analyze the concept as presented in it. Proceed from this to a general definition of what the students view as "Kiddush Hashem" and look for other examples in Jewish life and history. It is particularly important to examine contemporary implications.

The activities below were adapted and extended from a monthly series on Teaching Israel, produced and edited by Mr. Yitzhak Zucher at the former Pedagogic Center of the Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora.



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07 Jun 2005 / 29 Iyar 5765 0