Some Jewish holidays lend themselves to celebrating with children: lighting candles and playing dreidel on Chanukah, sitting in the Sukkah and eating delicious treats, dressing in costume on Purim. Others take a little more creativity, but are worth the work. Here are five ways to help your child connect with the holiday of Yom Kippur, a fast day that is all about repentance.
Model repentance and forgiveness: Children learn far more from our actions than our words. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, make sure that your child hears you apologize to someone you have hurt (it might even mean apologizing to your child). Also make sure to let them see you forgive others. Help your child see that everyone, adults included, make mistakes. Everyone needs to do teshuvah (to repent / return from doing the wrong thing to doing the right thing).
Give to the poor: Giving tzedakah (money to those in need) is always a Jewish obligation. Giving tzedakah before Yom Kippur is special time to give because God considers “repentance, prayer, and tzedakah” when judging our behavior during the past year. Some families donate the amount of money they would have spent on food during the fast day.
Bless your child: There is a tradition to bless your child(ren) at the beginning of Yom Kippur. Place your hand on your child’s head. There are traditional words that you can say here or you can just speak from your heart. Tell them you love them, tell them why you are proud of them, tell them what you hope for them in the future. This is a special moment of connection.
Read the story of Jonah: At the afternoon service on Yom Kippur, we read the Book of Jonah (one of my favorites). You can find it in any Bible or read it here. Read it together with your child. There are some great conversation starters in this story: how can a person run away from God, why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh, have you ever been scared to take on a difficult task?
Go to a N’eilah service: this is a short service at the end of Yom Kippur. It is said as the sun goes down and we are certain that God has forgiven us. At the end we hear one last blast of the Shofar. It is a joyful moment to be with others as we have a clean slate for the coming year.
There are so many educational opportunities in Milwaukee. If you would like some help finding the right program for your child, contact Tzipi Altman-Shafer to talk about how you can “Go Jewish” with your family (414-963-2718 or TziporahA@MilwaukeeJewish.org).