JCC Magazine

Elul: Activities, Recipes, and More for Your Family

 

This month's poster shows a shofar with musical notes floating out of its trumpet end on a soft pink background. We don't ordinarily think of the shofar during the last lazy days of summer, yet the shofar is sounded every morning (except Shabbat) to remind us that Rosh Hashana is on its way.

Introduction to Elul

Elul is the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar. Elul has no specific holiday of its own. Yet it is perhaps the most spiritual of all months, coming as it does immediately before the Yamim Noraim ("Days of Awe" (High Holidays- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). The entire month of Elul is seen as a spiritual prelude to the Days of Awe. To prepare ourselves, we blow the shofar every morning of Elul (except on Shabbat), include Psalm 27 in our morning and evening prayers, "Of David, the Lord is my light and my help; whom should I fear?" and recite special petitionary prayers called selihot. The Sephardim recite them throughout the month; the Ashkenazim only the last few days.

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Watch Shalom Sesame's video about Elul.

It is with the advent of Elul that we begin to wish each other "Shana tova u’metuka" ( a good and sweet new year) or "L’shana tova tikateivu" ( may you be inscribed for a good year).

Elul is a time of introspection and intimacy. Its very name is evocative-- It is lulling, soothing, calming, like the sounds a mother makes when cuddling her baby. It comes at a time when we sit quietly with our families and friends on the front porch, at the park, on the beach, watching nature, enjoying loving and being loved. Elul comes at a quiet time of the year when the summer is ending. The days are long, with almost twice as much daylight as the wintertime. Time itself seems to stretch out before us, inviting us to slow down, reflect, dream, enjoy. And yet it is also the time when the daylight hours are waning. So while Elul encourages dreaming, it also possesses a slight air of urgency. There is time to pause and dream, it is telling us, but that time does not last forever. Soon, it will be time to return to work, and see indeed if we can achieve our dreams.

Discover more about Elul's etymology, activities and recipes to help celebrate the month of Elul.

The Name Elul

The name, "Elul", is often seen as an acronym, standing for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li, "I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine." The beloved partners in this vision are G-d and the people Israel. Elul is thus seen as a month of reconciliation, a new honeymoon for these two covenanted partners. Indeed, tradition has it that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments on the 1st of Elul and descended with them on the 10th of Tishrei, Yom Kippur.

The name "Elul" is also illustrative of some of the fundamental lessons of life. In both Hebrew and English, the name is written with two high/tall letters and two low/short ones ("elul"), two consonants and two vowels, as if to say life has its high moments and its low ones, its softer moments and its harder ones. When we are in one, we can anticipate the other, and such anticipation enables us to get through the hard times, and enjoy the sweet times all the more.

And the name "Elul" hints at the almost circularity of life. The word is composed of two almost identical syllables: el, ul, with the "lamed" in Hebrew wrapping around itself, as if the syllables are playing leapfrog with each other. Indeed, the two parts of the name form a whole, but one gets the feeling that it is just a portion of a bigger whole, one link in the endless chain of time. Indeed, so it is with each of us. We are each a distinct entity, not identical to anyone else. Yet, we share so much in common with others, and we join with them to create the chain of life. None of us is sufficient for all life; but each of us is necessary to create the chain of life.

A Month of Self-Evaluation

With all of the above-mentioned thoughts that Elul evokes, it is no wonder that Elul has become the month when we are bidden to do our heshbon hanefesh, our self-evaluation. We are to be honest in our assessments, for we cannot grow if we deceive ourselves, but gentle with our punishment. For we are, after all, just human. And all we can ask of others, as well as ourselves, is that we try always to do our very best.

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With the month of Elul reminding us to be reflective, we thought this article would be helpful as you explore this concept with your young children. The article below is written by Helen Maffini, an emotional intelligence and international education consultant has worked in reform projects in the field of education around the globe.

Help Kids to Develop Reflective Skills

Self reflection is a skill that children of all ages need to develop. This is a skill that will help kids in adulthood in many ways including developing their self-esteem. Being reflective means being able to think about what you have done, why and if it was effective.

If children can adapt their behavior after reflecting on what went well or not well. Those that can will hold a worthy skill.

There are various ways to promote self reflection skills. Journal writing is a very effective way to start these skills. By writing down what they are thinking and feeling kids will be able to review and contemplate on their actions and reactions.

The missing piece of the puzzle is found here. Children need to learn to develop self questioning skills as another important way they can develop their reflective skills.

Questions to Develop Self Reflection in Children

  • How do I feel?
  • How did I feel earlier in the day, yesterday or the week before?
  • Why do I feel this way?
  • Why did I act in a certain way? What prompted me to act like that?
  • What does this tell me about myself?
  • What can I learn from this situation?
  • If I am in this situation again, what would I do the same and what would I do differently?

Mirror Activity

Give your child a hand mirror. Ask them think about a recent event that made them (use different words happy, proud, sad, disappointed) while looking in the mirror. Ask them to think about the event and what they did, what went well, what didn't and how they will handle a similar event in the future. It will be easier for many children to do this while looking at themselves in the mirror rather talking directly to a parent.

Two stars and a Wish

This is a simple activity you can incorporate into most daily events. After vent, for example, a sports game, a test or completing a project, ask your child to tell you two stars and a wish, that is two things that went well and they are happy with and one thing they want to improve.

See more activities that promote self-reflection in children.

Recipes

Strawberry Coconut Ice Cubes

Use these berry flavored ice cubes to cool off during hot summer days.

Ingredients

  • 6 strawberries
  • 2 cups coconut water

Directions

Cut fresh strawberries into small cubes and place in ice cube tray. Pour coconut water into tray, over the strawberries. Place the trays into the freezer, and freeze (suggested at least four hours, or overnight).

Kid Friendly Honey Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup honey
  • 3 1/2 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

In a mixer, beat eggs, sugar, oil and honey for seven minutes. Gradually add the sifted flour and the baking soda. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Pre-heat the oven to 350. Smear a little bit of flour onto your hands and shape the dough into balls. Flatten the balls a little bit and put them in the oven to bake for 15 minutes on a greased and floured pan.

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This recipe is courtesy of Chabad.

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