Yom Kippur

Tuesday evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. This falls 10 days after Rosh Hashanah (New Year), when God makes the final decisions on who will live and die during the next year. The names of the righteous are written into the Book of Life, while the wicked are condemned. All others have until Yom Kippur to repent for the year’s sins.

In ancient times, this involved priests laying their hands on a goat and confessing the community’s sins — then leading it away into the “wilderness” and pushing it over a cliff. (In fact, this is the origin of the word “scapegoat”.)

Modern Jews see Yom Kippur as a period of reflection and making amends for the mistakes of the last 12 months, while thinking about what to do differently next year. For strict Jews, the “sabbath of sabbaths” is a day of fasting, wearing white and abstaining from work, sex, bathing and leather shoes.

Although Yom Kippur is a Jewish holiday, anyone can benefit from reflecting on their life and saying “sorry”. Apologies help to heal broken relationships, build trust and to absolve any guilt you are carrying.

What are some of the things that you hope to do differently next year?

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Assembly

In this video for Yom Kippur, Rabbi Etiel Goldwicht discusses the three levels of forgiveness.

Activities

  1. Write three lists: the biggest mistakes you made in the past 12 months; the things you want to do differently next year; and the people who you want to apologise to. You don’t have to show these lists to anyone — just writing them down can help you to understand your feelings and help you to move on.
  2. Research one of the traditions of Yom Kippur. Create a presentation for the rest of your class about what it involves, where it came from and what it symbolises.
  3. Write a poem or create a piece of artwork on the theme of “atonement”.