Of all the Jewish festivals, the festival of Yom Kippur is the most important. It is a time of fasting, prayer and penance for the Jews, old and young alike. Yom Kippur is considered to be the Sabbath of all Sabbaths. Depending on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur falls during the month of September or October each year.
Yom Kippur is different from other Jewish festivals in the way that it emphasizes on communal activities. The main feature of this festival is 25 hours of fasting, prayer and meditation. Therefore, the activities also tend to revolve around this central theme.
Yom Kippur Activities
- Prayer and meditation: This is the most obvious activity of Yom Kippur. Throughout the 25 hour long duration of Yom Kippur, the major portion is spent in prayer and meditation. There are several standard prayers which can be offered like the Rebbe Nachmann prayer. Since this festival is about atonement, one can meditate upon themes such as how to be a better person and contemplate on past wrong doings.
- Yizkor: This is considered to be one of the most auspicious things to do on Yom Kippur. Attending Yizkor essentially means paying respects to the dead. On this day, some time is usually spent on visiting the graves of those who have passed away.
- Charity: This is again in line with atonement and being a better person. This is best achieved by performing ‘Tzedakah’ or charity. ‘Tzedakah’ is something that is expected to be performed by all classes of Jews, rich or poor. ‘Tzedakah’ is considered to be one the three main means of atonement for sins according to the Talmud. So during Yom Kippur, a lot of charitable work is undertaken by the Jews.
- Performing a Mitzvah: A Mitzvah is basically a good deed. One can perform a Mitzvah by visiting sick and needy people. You can do this by visiting an old peoples’ home, an orphanage or a hospital. Gifts can be given, and time should be spent with people who have none.
- Attending religious services: During Yom Kippur, most of the synagogues will be holding specialservices. Considerable time is spent attending these services. The synagogues are usually fully occupied during the festival.
- Begging for forgiveness: This is considered an auspicious way to start the new year. 'Aseret Yemei Teshuva' marks 10 days of repentance which culminate with Yom Kippur. According to the Jewish scriptures, one cannot attain divine forgiveness until forgiveness is sought by those who have wronged. This is one of the main objectives of a person who observes Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur Celebrations
Yom Kippur is not so strong on celebrations due to the sober nature of the festival. It however does have its high points when friends and family join in observing and celebrating the festival.
- Breaking of the fast: This is the most apparent form of celebration, as it ends the penance and is done in a communal way. The fast can be broken at the synagogue or at home. It is usually broken with a meal shared by friends and family. The food is usually cake and ‘challah’ a kind of Jewish bread. The menu may not limit itself to these two items, but meat is generally avoided, as it is considered too rich after fasting for 25 hours but nowadays chicken is eaten.
- Song and Dance: The festival is also punctuated with much song and dance, as the Jewish tradition is very rich in this aspect. People render musical performances in synagogues and homes alike. Similarly, dances are performed in some solo and some group dances. In Jerusalem there is a custom to go to the Wailing Wall and dance together with everyone after breaking the fast of Yom Kippur.
Games played during Yom Kippur
These are usually organized for the children. Since the adults are so busy fasting and praying, the very young children need to be occupied as they cannot be expected to understand fully what is going on, and 25 hours is a very long time indeed for a small child. So the adults organize games for the children to be played during Yom Kippur.
- Sack games: Using a sack, several games can be devised for the children. For example, a collection of items can be placed in a sack preferably Yom Kippur items, and the children have to guess what is in the sack.
- Ball games: Depending on the number of children at hand, various ball games can be organized. It’s a good idea to have several balls as certain games need multiple balls.
- Singing and dancing games: The children can be made to sing songs in connection with the festival of Yom Kippur. The Jews have a rich tradition of dance also, and this is a good time to acquaint the children with dance, perhaps ending the festival with a dance competition.
So, the festival of Yom Kippur is an eagerly awaited festival by the Jewish people, as it brings in so much activity.
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