| Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the
Jewish calendar, begins eight days after Rosh Hashanah and is the time
to practice self-denial through fasting, prayer and repentance. Its
origin comes from the book of Leviticus of the Bible. The only fast day
decreed in the Bible (Lev. 23:26-32), Yom Kippur is also called the Day
of Atonement. For Jewish people around the world, it is the time to keep
away from any food or drink. The pious and able Jews fast for 25 hours
and pray to God to ask for his forgiveness of their sins. They meditate
on what they have done in the previous year that might displease God,
entreat him to excuse them their sins and look for ways to correct
themselves and become better individuals. Even individuals who consider
themselves primarily secular Jews participate in this holy day.
Unlike most Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur has few home rituals. It is made
for communal worship. There are no festive meals, except the breaking of
the fast. Most activities are suspended during Yom Kippur. However, in
addition to prayer and fasting (don't let the little ones fast too
long), you can try out activities like these which are in keeping with
the mood of the sacred Yom Kippur celebrations.
1) Pray alone and meditate
Yom Kippur being a day of worship and fasting, set aside some time to
pray and meditate alone. Read Rebbe Nachmann of Bratslav’s prayer and
think about the ways in which you are part of the natural world that
surrounds you. Contemplate in what ways you can contribute to preserve
and enhance the beauty of the world? How can you be of assistance to the
Rebbe Nachmann’s Prayer
Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things,
There to be alone and enter into prayer.
There may I express all that is in my heart,
Talking with Him to whom I belong.
And may all grasses, trees, and plants
Awake at my coming.
Send the power of their life into my prayer,
Making whole my heart and my speech through the life and spirit of
Made whole by their transcendent Source.
Oh! That they would enter my prayer!
Then would I fully open my heart in prayer, supplication, and holy
Then, O God, would I pour out the words of my heart before Your
2) Engage in charitable works
It is customary to give contributions to a charity before a Jewish
holiday. Judaism emphasises that 'Tzedakah' or charity is an important
part of living a sufficiently sacred life. Unlike philanthropy, which is
totally voluntary, tzedakah is seen as a religious obligation, which
must be performed regardless of financial standing, and must be
performed even by the poor. It is considered to be one of the three main
acts that grant forgiveness of sin, and the annulment of bad decrees.
Giving charity to the poor is given precedence over any other charity
according to the Talmud. So follow the Talmud and help some poor people
in your locality. Tzedakah may be in the form of money or time
volunteered for a good cause. It is even better if your identity remains
unknown to the receiver of your gift. Jewish tradition argues that the
second highest form of tzedakah is to anonymously give donations to
unknown recipients. The best way to do so is to donate used or saleable
goods to a thrift shop or shelter.
3) Perform a mitzvah
Yom Kippur is the time to beg forgiveness and improve. And what better
way to work towards your amelioration than by performing a mitzvah?
'Mitzvah' is a Jewish word that stands for any good deed performed in
accordance with the divine commandments given in the Torah (the whole
body of the Jewish sacred writings and tradition including the oral
tradition). The best mitzvah is to touch the life of someone else and
see if you can help him/her in some way. Send gifts and sweets to people
you feel need a little encouragement or an emotional boost. These can be
your relatives or neighbours or a distant one. You can visit a nearby
hospital or nursing home before Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and spend
sometime with elderly patients admitted in there; especially those who
do not have many visitors or have none to call of their own. Make sure
to call the hospitals or nursing homes beforehand to arrange for your
visit. Carry along a small gift like some flowers in a colorful vase, a
flowering plant, or a pretty scarf for a woman; a baseball cap or a
bright tie for a man. See that your visit becomes worthwhile and
meaningful to the people there. Your presence will fill them with a
sense of belonging to the community, especially if they are unable to
attend services. Have a great time performing your mitzvah!
4) Attend Yizkor
Attending Yizkor is one of the best things to do on Yom Kippur. If
you're a Jew, you must be well acquainted with the tradition of Yizkor.
A memorial service for the dead, this Jewish custom requires you to
visit the graves of loved ones before the High Holy Days. Performing
this deed is considered to have special virtue. It helps us to remember
the people who gave us life and inspired us to perform good actions.
Moreover, Jewish mystics believe that visiting the graves of dead
relatives encourages them to intercede with God on our behalf. If you
have children or grandchildren or other young relatives, take them along
with you to attend the Yizkor service. Take some time prior to Yizkor to
tell about your folks and show their pictures to your kiddies so that
they know who they have come to visit and don't get bored while you
attend the service. And it will also help you to pass on to your
children the values your dead folks taught you.
5) Attend religious services for Yom Kippur
The High Holy Days are the time to attend religious services. In modern
times, many congregations offer a Selichot Service near midnight on the
weekend preceding the Ten Days of Repentance. You too can attend one in
the company of your friends, family members or relatives. Call local
synagogues, community organizations, and colleges to inquire about the
times and location of their services. These days, a number of synagogues
require tickets for admission to services on the High Holy Days. Be sure
to ask whether tickets are available for non-members, as well as about
their price. Nearly all Jewish communities offer free services for the
High Holy Days; however reservations are usually required because of the
need to provide adequate seating. Generally, Yizkor services and
children’s services are free and open to the community. However, you are
advised to inquire beforehand to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment.
6) Break the fast
Yom Kippur is the day dedicated to the purification of the soul or the
spirit. It is the time to keep a fast - to deprive your body physically
in order to rise to a higher spiritual plane. Have a meaningful fast and
break it gracefully with a nice meal. People often gather in the
synagogue or at the home of friends to break their fast. It is
traditional to eat challah and cake -- which are baked just before the
holiday (though you need not limit yourselves to these). Avoid meat
dishes, as they are generally difficult to digest after fasting for one
7) Seek Forgiveness
The Ten Days of Repentance or 'Aseret Yemei Teshuva' are the first ten
days of the Jewish month of Tishrei, beginning on the Jewish holiday of
Rosh Hashanah and ending on Yom Kippur. During this time, Jews practice
'Teshuvah' (or repentance). It is the time to examine one's ways, engage
in Repentance and the improvement of the spirit. It is also the occasion
for "Vidui" or confession; to ask for and grant forgiveness. Judaism
teaches that we cannot attain Divine forgiveness until we have seriously
sought forgiveness from those we have ever wronged in the course of our
life. During our life we all make mistakes. Amending those mistakes and
promising never to repeat them is the best way to begin the New Year.
Jewish wisdom holds that we all eventually meet those we have wronged,
and so we should look them in the eye and ask for forgiveness.