Yom Kippur Without Fasting

How kids can atone too.

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The "Jewish Lent"

On Yom Kippur, you can also encourage children to give up some basic comforts, such as a favorite toy, a special hair accessory, a particular game, or even an outdoor activity. The important thing is that your child, with the assistance and support of an adult, takes time to choose a specific way to abstain. Feel free to call this act "fasting from"--for instance, "fasting from soccer" or "fasting from Liza the bunny."

If appropriate, you can discuss this deprivation at your seudah mafseket ("What will be challenging for you about 25 hours without soccer?"), and then again at your break-fast, when the deprivation is all over ("What thoughts came to mind when you thought about how much you missed Liza?").

During Services

Depending on your local community, you may or may not have age-appropriate services for children. If your children are sitting through services mainly geared toward adults, it can be helpful to have a conversation to help them connect to the meaning of the day.
For example, you might discuss how Yom Kippur is a day for personal and communal atonement. This word, which might be unfamiliar to children, can be broken up into three words: "at," "one," and "-ment." Ask your kids: what does it mean for a person to be "at one" with himself or herself? What would it take for our community to be at one with ourselves? What about with others?

However you choose to connect your children to the rituals of this holy day, keep in mind that though they may not yet be mature enough to express it, children are spiritual beings. Giving them an opportunity to sit and listen to the sounds of the service, and explaining to them the adult experiences of the day, can provide children with a chance to reflect and connect. Indeed, just by taking a few simple steps to translate for your children the complicated symbolism and meaning behind your rituals, you have the power to enhance your own personal connection to the holiday.

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Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is the Director of Jewish Family Learning & Life at West End Synagogue, A Reconstructionist Congregation in Manhattan. She has her M.A. in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary. She is also a senior editor of Jewschool.com and Director of Programming for Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.