Dear Miriam | Yom Kippur Asked and Answered


14437884-yom-kippur-a-background-with-gold-david-star.jpgDear Readers,

Right before Rosh Hashanah, I answered some holiday-themed questions and, as we approach Yom Kippur, I have another set to share. Based on the following, it’s clear that Yom Kippur is full of tension between the celebratory and the somber, and I hope these answers help you move smoothly through the next few days.

My wife and I have a young toddler whose school is closed on Yom Kippur. We both struggle with fasting, and our synagogue doesn’t have child care for his age group. What can we do so the holiday is even remotely manageable?

You have two main options here: Hire a babysitter, or divide the responsibilities of the day between you. You could alternate by the hour at services or split the day in half, taking turns staying at home with your child. Hopefully, you can find a way for both of you to nap in the afternoon.

Unlike my advice last week to parents of preschoolers about setting new, kid-appropriate expectations and traditions for Rosh Hashanah, you need strategies just to get through the day. Though, of course, hiring a sitter is an expense, the cost and inconvenience may be worth it. I also encourage you to consult a rabbi and/or doctor as to whether your difficulties with fasting warrant an accommodation, which may be relevant for child care purposes, but even more importantly, for your health.

How can I get through Yom Kippur when I’m just not in the spirit of the day?

Be kind to yourself! This isn’t a cliche; this really is my best advice. You feel how you feel, and the calendar and the liturgy probably can’t change that. If you’re wondering why you feel the way you do, the opportunities for familiar tunes, community and introspection may actually be a great backdrop for some deep thoughts.

I also recommend taking walks or other breaks throughout Yom Kippur, bringing a book or some appropriately-themed articles with you to services and making sure you have someone to talk to during the day so you’re not only alone with your thoughts. Yom Kippur can be a very hard day, but remember that it’s only one day, and Thursday will be here soon enough.

What are some ways to memorialize people who have died this year? And for people who have had a family member die this time of year, how can they cope with saying prayers that are so focused on judgment and the determination of who lives and dies?

Yizkor, the service for remembering people who have died, is part of the Yom Kippur service. While it’s traditionally only attended by people who have lost a close family member, more and more synagogues are framing this part of the day as an opportunity to remember loved ones more broadly and to honor those who don’t have close family members to remember them.

Many people visit their family members’ graves between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and light a 24-hour candle before the holiday starts in memory of loved ones. All of these can be important moments to remember and honor people who have passed. In addition to these built-in rituals, you can further honor loved ones’ memories by telling stories, looking at family pictures and spending time with others who share your past as well as your grief.

Yom Kippur is full of liturgy about death, which may provide comfort to some people in mourning and be very triggering to others. If you need to step out during certain parts of the service, plan in advance to do that, and consider asking a friend or family member to step out with you. While clergy are certainly very busy now, they are also likely to make time for someone who wants to discuss the very themes that are so central to this holiday.

I’m a Jewish professional who has to work throughout the holidays. How can I make these days spiritually meaningful for myself, too?

You need to schedule this time for yourself. Don’t expect to find spiritually meaningful moments amid leading services or moving chairs or greeting people or the hundreds of other tasks that Jewish professionals do this time of year. Even if you spend time in the service, your mind is likely to be elsewhere in line with your professional responsibilities.

Maybe your spiritual time is the day before Yom Kippur, when you read an essay about repentance or take a few minutes to do tashlich alone. Maybe you set a spiritual intention for your walk home after Kol Nidrei services, or for the 10 minutes before congregants enter the building Wednesday morning. Maybe — hopefully! — you have some comp days coming up where you will take care of yourself and pause for reflection on the successes and challenges of both the past two weeks and the past year.

Though your chosen profession may dramatically change the nature of your spiritual practice, your role is a gift to the Jewish people and, I hope, as such, you find deep fulfillment knowing that you’re making the holiday possible for so many other people.

Wishing everyone a g’mar hatimah tovah and a meaningful day, whatever it looks like for you.

Be well,



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