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Yom Kippur Family Guide

June 9, 2011 | by Yair Kobernick

Danny and Dina went into the synagogue on Yom Kippur. When they walked inside they saw something very unusual.

"Hey Danny," said Dina pointing to the men whose heads and bodies were covered with white prayer shawls. "Why are they playing 'Hide 'n Seek'?"

"I don't know," said Danny, "but look, they don't have their shoes on either!"

"Tooooooooooooooo! Tooooooooooooooo! Tooooooooooooooo!" shrilled Shrilly the Shofar. "They're not playing 'Hide 'n Seek,' they are praying. And on Yom Kippur, everybody leaves their regular shoes at home. Would you like to join me for a tour of the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?"

"Sure," they said. "Where are we going to start?" asked Danny.

"How about right after Rosh Hashanah," answered Shrilly.

"That's a good place to start," said Dina.

The ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur are called the "Ten Days of Teshuva." Teshuva means "return" to God.

On Rosh Hashanah, everyone has a judgment. Then, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are given an extension, a last chance to improve ourselves, to say we are sorry for things we did wrong. On Yom Kippur the final judgment is made.

This is a little like being called into the principal's office for bad behavior. Embarrassed for having to be called into the office, the child expresses regret. Then the principal says, "I'm glad to hear you're sorry. That's the first step. The second step is to ask yourself, what can be done about it. What can you do to make sure that it won't happen again? These are questions you are going to have to ask yourself. We'll take one week and see what happens. If the situation improves, we'll just forget about the whole thing. I'll know you've decided to take the matter into your own hands. I'm confident that you'll think of something to make sure this doesn't happen anymore. Good luck."

During these days, it is customary to give extra charity tzedaka. Giving charity shows that we care about others especially since it's not always easy to part with our money. Even a little bit is considered a very big mitzvah!

The Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuva. Shuva -- like teshuva -- means "return" and implies that the Jewish people should try their best to "return" to being good and doing lots of kindness with others. Especially before Yom Kippur, the day our Judgement for the year is sealed.

A fast day is a day that we do without food and drink. We hold back from eating and drinking for the entire night and day of Yom Kippur. Since the fast starts at sunset, it is important to eat and drink before the fast begins. A festive meal is prepared and the whole family sits down together to eat. As soon as this meal is finished, the fast begins.

"Why is it called a fast day?" asked Danny.

"To fast means to abstain from consuming food and drink," answered Shrilly. "But don't worry, the fast usually passes very fast.

"Danny," said Dina, "I think he's trying to pull a fast one on us."

"No really," said Shrilly. "There are many words that have two different meanings. 'Fast' can mean 'quick' or 'speedy,' but it can also mean to refrain from eating."

Before sunset the woman of the home lights candles. Just before leaving the house for the synagogue parents bless their children with the beautiful "Children's Blessing" found in the Machzor (Yom Kippur Prayer Book).

Younger children do not fast. Only those who are over the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah are obligated to fast. However everyone, even children, do not wash, shower or wear leather shoes. Instead of leather shoes, some people wear slippers, plastic shoes or rubber beach sandals.

"I remember," said Danny, "Mom told us last year that even though children are allowed to eat, we shouldn't go walking around eating in front of people who are fasting."

"That's what I call being thoughtful of others." replied Shrilly. "Better not to make things more difficult than they already are."

"I'm going to wear my white slippers," added Dina. "I'll feel just like a grown-up since all the grown-ups will be wearing slippers or something similar."

Kol Nidrei signals the beginning of the Yom Kippur prayers. The Ark is opened and two Torah scrolls are taken out. This is one of the parts of the Yom Kippur service that just about everybody attends.

"Hey Shrilly," whispered Dina. "Why are they hitting themselves on the chest?"

"That's called Viduy," explained Shrilly. This is the part where everyone says quietly what they may have done wrong throughout the year. They take their fist and lightly tap the chest over the heart. This is as if to say, we regret in our hearts the wrong things we have done."

The last part of the service is called Neilah. In Hebrew this means, "the locking of the gates." At the end of the day, the heavenly gates are locked and each and every person's judgement is sealed for the upcoming year.

The Shofar is blasted one last time and then everyone says together: "Next year in Jerusalem."

At nightfall, when it is dark outside, the fast is officially over. Everyone happily goes home and eats the break fast. After the break fast, some people begin right away to build their sukkah.

"Breakfast?" said Dina with a puzzled look. "Breakfast in the nighttime?"

"I thought we eat breakfast in the morning," said Danny.

"Since we've been fasting all day long, now we need to break the fast. Similarly after a long nights sleep without eating anything, we get up and eat breakfast, or break-the-fast.

Danny and Dina learned so much about Yom Kippur. "Shrilly," said Dina. "You are the best tour guide anyone could ever have. Thank you very much."

"Don't mention it," answered Shrilly. "I'm sure the two of you will have a sweet, fantastic, wonderful, amazing, astounding new year!"

"After all you've done for us Shrilly," said Danny, "I'm sure you will toooooooooooooo."

"Bye," waved Shrilly.

"Bye," they both waved.

"Tooooooooooooooooooo! Tooooooooooooooooooo! Tooooooooooooooooooo!!"

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