Yom Kippur? Ready to reflect? Staying at University? Don’t know how to get involved? Well, UJS is here to help once again with different discussion points and activities that you can do on and around Yom Kippur to understand and process the High Holy Day. Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on the previous year and look to the year ahead. This sneak preview to the next Student Guide to the High Holy Days has talking points, activities and some words of wisdom to leave you thinking on Yom Kippur.
Including ideas inspired by students across campuses, this is a great educational resource useful for every J-Soc and every Jewish student on campus.
Made as a great guideline to begin discussions on Yom Kippur, every J-Soc can tailor it to their own community. It can inspire great discussions surrounding Yom Kippur and the ideas that the Holy Day provokes.
Yom Kippur (יום כפור)
Yom Kippur is known as one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, as a day where we atone for our sins. Translated as ‘Day of Atonement’ it lasts for 25 hours and many people fast to cleanse their souls and focus completely on praying for forgiveness. Forgiveness and atonement are the key themes of Yom Kippur, as it is said that it is the day where G-d makes the final decision on what the year will be like for everyone. At the end of Yom Kippur, the shofar is sounded to signify the end of the fast.
For many students, attending a synagogue or praying on Yom Kippur is a very important part of their day. As it is a day asking for forgiveness, a processing session within the J-Soc may also be useful alongside this to reflect on the previous year and look towards the year ahead. This a great way to bring the J-Soc together on this holy day. Continuing, there are some points for discussion that may be useful for these sessions on campus as well as other activities that you could do.
Ten days of Repentance and Teshuvah (תשובה)
The ten days of Repentance are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in which it is custom to ask for forgiveness and reflect on the previous year. This is commonly known as Teshuvah. While mistakes happen, Teshuvah allows a time for us to reflect and try to prevent them from happening again. Although Teshuva is said to translate to repentance, it actually translates to ‘return’ – return to a path of goodness for the new year, and reflection is a key part of that.
We have come up with ten ways that you can reflect on the previous year - now and throughout the year, to help you think positively and continue the path of goodness for the new year. These ten tips and quotes are easy activities that don’t take very long and helps you look both inwards and outwards to see what you’re thankful for. They also look at ways to help give back to the community and to help keep you grounded.
Ten ways to Reflect
- Wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and be grateful for the day ahead.
- Thank a friend for something they have helped you achieve.
- Think positively rather than noticing the flaws, focus your energy on the good.
- Text someone you care about – Use Yom Kippur to connect, not isolate
- Make a commitment to do something you have always wanted to do
- Check in on yourself. How are you doing? Your mental health is just as important as everyone else’s.
- Offer your help at a J-Soc event or a local charity.
- Be your authentic self. Don’t let anyone you who you are.
- Think of three things that make you smile. When having a down day remind yourself of these.
- ‘You cannot want the BEST while secretly expecting the Worst. Don’t destroy the possibility of good today by dwelling on all the bad that happened yesterday.’
Let’s Talk about it!
The Story of Jonah
Jonah is the Haftorah that is read on Yom Kippur. Jonah refuses to follow G-ds order to go to Nineveh and preach to them as they were wicked. Jonah refused and tried to run away by Boat to Tarshish. G-D then sent a storm upon the ship, and the other men on board the ship blamed it on Jonah. Consequently, they threw him overboard, stopping the storm. Jonah was then swallowed by a big fish, which some call a whale, who stopped Jonah from drowning. In the fish, Jonah prayed for help, repented and praised G-d. For three days, he was in the belly of the fish, until he was thrown up on to the shores of Nineveh. He then preached to Nineveh warning them to repent before the city is destroyed in 40 days. The people believed Jonah and turned from their wickedness, so G-d was merciful on them Jonah became angry because G-d did not destroy the Ninevites. When Jonah sat to rest, G-d provided a vine to give him shade. The next day, G-d sent a worm to eat the vine, leaving Jonah sat in the hot sun complaining, and wanting to die. G-d scolded Jonah for being so concerned about a plant, while G-d was concerned by those that lived in Nineveh and their actions.
- Often our moral principles are tested, and we are faced with questionable situations which we may not understand. How should one react to a situation which is out of your control?
- How can we work to help other people, instead of turning a blind eye? How do we stand up tall, speak loud and proud against injustice?
- How can we help someone who doesn’t have a strong community?
- On Yom Kippur, everyone to be forgiven. How can we confront our regrets head-on and learn to ask for forgiveness?
- All humans should be perceived as being equal, regardless of difference in background and experience? How do we actively treat people like equals?
- How can we learn to be more empathetic to other people’s struggles and experiences?
Yizkor – The Memorial Prayer
Yom Kippur is the first day in the Jewish calendar in which we say ‘Yizkor,’ the memorial prayer recited for the ‘dearly departed.’ Meaning Remembrance in Hebrew and most commonly refers to the memorial prayer services that occur four times in the year, during Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. Often it is a common belief that by saying Yizkor, remembering a loved one and giving charity in their name, it helps their soul gain merit from our good deeds. Jewish people believe in the eternity of the soul. It is hugely important to use Yom Kippur as a time to reflect and remember the past whilst also using these memories to enhance your future.
The origin of Scapegoat comes from one of the Torah portions read on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16: 1-34). Here it states that there would be two goats. One would be slaughtered as an offering to God and the other would be the designated ‘Scapegoat’. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to this other goat, who was supposedly allowed to run away.
- Can this goat be a metaphor for transferring one set of poor behaviours to another? We tend to get comfortable in our behaviour and justify the habit.
- Reflect on one thing that you have made a habit, that you would like to change over the upcoming year.
- What scapegoats could we identify today? Maybe in popular culture, our personal lives or within our community?
- When have you been guilty of projecting your problems onto something or someone else, or making up excuses instead of dealing with them yourselves?
- Dwelling on these issues does not help either. Maybe try and think of why this happened, and you can work on these behaviours and improve for the next year
- Rather than scapegoating, it is important to stand up for what you believe in and take responsibility for your actions. Perhaps look at ways that you could do this both for yourself and your community.
Loud and Proud!
There is a significance on Yom Kippur to ‘cry with full throat’ and ‘without restraint.’ This can be interpreted as bearing your heart on your sleeve and being whole-heartedly authentic in your approach to atonement. Repentance can be a very cathartic experience. We urge you all to use Yom Kippur as a time to reflect, and to take this reflection forward, becoming Loud and Proud of who you are, apologising and then unapologetically being WHO YOU ARE, regardless of the judgement of your peers. All you can do is be you!
Cry with full throat, without restraint; Raise your voice like a ram’s horn! Declare to My people their transgression, To the House of Jacob their sin.
קְרָ֤א בְגָרוֹן֙ אַל־תַּחְשֹׂ֔ךְ כַּשּׁוֹפָ֖ר הָרֵ֣ם קוֹלֶ֑ךָ וְהַגֵּ֤ד לְעַמִּי֙ פִּשְׁעָ֔ם וּלְבֵ֥ית יַעֲקֹ֖ב חַטֹּאתָֽם׃
(Isiah 58: 1)
On Yom Kippur, sometimes it can be easier to understand the High Holy Day visually, rather than in words. As Yom Kippur is such a powerful day, focused on repentance and prayer, some artists have put this into imagery. This is a powerful way to understand Yom Kippur and can be very useful when trying to learn and understand the day itself. Here are 5 pieces of art that we have picked, each of a different style and different artists. These are great points of discussion, as well as very thought provoking images, each which can mean something different to different people.
Maybe creating your own piece of artwork may help you to celebrate the festival? Art is a great way to do this and express yourself in a way that only you know how as well as a great way to reflect on the year before, ad look towards the year ahead.
Activities on Campus
Yom Kippur is a great time to help others and help them get involved in Yom Kippur and feel a part of the community. Volunteering is a great way to ask for a better year and improve. There are many ways that this can be done throughout the year. One way could be giving gifts to a local community or visiting a local retirement home. This is a way of helping the community and perhaps learning something new for the year ahead. For those that have access to A Jewish community, this is a great way to help those may not be able to access a service and get them involved with the community. Volunteering is a great activity for Yom Kippur
Breaking the Fast
For those that fast on Yom Kippur and those that do not, coming together for a meal is a great time to reflect on the previous year and look towards the year ahead. Coming together helps you bond as a community, as well a sharing great food. Top Tip! Avoid meat when breaking the fast as this can be difficult to digest! Many uses to fish, Challah and Salad!
Meditation and Mindfulness
As Yom Kippur is a day of inwards looking and cleansing the soul, one way of doing this may be through Meditation and Mindfulness. By reflecting and clearing your mind this helps to cleanse your soul and breathe, and this is a great way to do this. Yoga may be another method to help clear your mind and prepare yourself for the year ahead. This is an activity that can be done alone or in a group
Write a Letter
Writing a letter whether to G-D, to yourself or to a friend, this activity helps you process and can help you to express your discomfort and regrets over the last year. This is an active way of doing this, as it forces you to confront things that you may not have liked, or situations you can no longer hide from. Writing this in a letter could be a great way to process this and verbalise in a pro-active way that helps you to reflect and repent for the previous year. As a letter to yourself rather than to others, this becomes a very personal way of reflection; a method that helps you to more deeply reflect and focus on your own wellbeing.
On Yom Kippur, it customary to wear white as a symbol of purity. As we are asking for atonement, pale colours are simplistic, and places us as equal, rather than above each other. In some traditions, a Kittel is worn on Yom Kippur, a white cotton or linen material to fulfil this purpose. It is also made from a pure material, therefore emphasising the purity on Yom Kippur. Some also wear a Kittel as it is also used as a burial shroud. This therefore reminds people to the morality of life, and to stay humble, whilst reminding us of the need for repentance. By simply wearing white, this can help you connect to the festival, in a very passive manor. This is a simple way to celebrate the festival, that holds a deep meaning of equality behind it.
Words of Wisdom
“On Yom Kippur we read the 'story' of 'Jonah. The last chapter tells of Jonah sitting in the heat of the sun when G-D causes a leafy plant (Kikayon) to miraculously grow. Jonah bemoans his critical situation and when confronted by G-d whether he is 'grieved about the kikayon', he replies, 'I'm deeply distressed to the point of death'. Seemingly, Jonah was distressed about the plant, not solely about his situation. Through the kikayon metaphor G-D intended to teach Jonah, and everyone about empathy. Just as Jonah had empathy for the plant, so too should we show care and concern for everyone.”
Rabbi Gavin ‘Rav Gav’ Broder (University Jewish Chaplain for London)
As one of the most important days in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur can be a really difficult time for students to spend away from home. However it can also be a great way to build new communities at university, either at J-Soc or independent minyanim
Georgie Friend and Tomer Raphael, (Marom, Masorti Students and Young Adults)
Yom Kippur. 25 hours of hunger and repenting for our sins. Sounds cheery! But on this holiest of days, we prepare for self-reflection and inner change, and seek atonement from the Divine. If you find yourself drifting off, find one meaningful word, and repeat it in your mind and soul. Gmar Chatima tovah!
Maya Skaarbrevik (Progressive Jewish Students)