Pursuing Social Justice: Yom Kippur Activities for Families

Yom Kippur is the holiest days of the year on the Jewish calendar. In addition to attending services, it is customary for adults who are able to fast for the day. Fasting allows us to ignore our bodies’ needs and focus on our souls, bringing us closer to God. It also is a day to consider our behavior during the past year, especially those instances where we have missed the mark, and strive to do better in the year ahead. To weave these facets of Yom Kippur together, let’s strive to always be close to God, to appreciate what we have – the things that feed our bodies and our souls – and help others in need. But how? Engage with these activities to start thinking!

Learning

Yom Kippur Morning, Deuteronomy 29: 9-14, 30:11-20

On Yom Kippur morning, we read the final address by Moses to the Children of Israel, reminding us that each of us is a member of the Covenant, the sacred agreement we entered with God. From our ancestors at Sinai to this day, each of us is an heir to this sacred tradition. Our tradition is neither too difficult to learn nor too difficult to follow. Regardless of our station in life, Torah belongs to all of us. Finally, we are exhorted to “choose life,” to love God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments. By doing so, we open our hearts to God and to each other.

Yom Kippur Afternoon, Leviticus 19: 1-4, 9-18, 32-37

In this climactic chapter in the Book of Leviticus, we read that each of us can be holy. Each of us can bring holiness into our lives and into the lives of those around us. Every act, great or small, can bring us closer to the sacred. We are instructed to leave something from our fields for the poor and for the stranger. We are told, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” We are reminded that we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt and so we must love the stranger. As the Torah reading on Yom Kippur reminds us, each of us can do these things, and that the way to a life of holiness involves sanctifying each moment of our lives.

(In addition to the Torah readings on Yom Kippur, the holiday itself is mentioned in Leviticus 16:1-34Leviticus 23:26-32, and Numbers 29:7-11.)

Activity 1: Experience Torah

Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) is one of the places in the Torah that mentions the High Holidays.

Activity 2: Pursuing Justice

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

Discuss with your family:

  • “Justice, justice you shall pursue” has been interpreted as one of the main Jewish texts directing us toward social action, which is one focus of Yom Kippur. In what ways do you see the Jewish community engaging in social justice?
  • What are some ways your family can pursue tzedakah (money dedicated to the work of world-repair or, literally, justice)?

Activity 3: Applying Your Ideas! 

This Yom Kippur, challenge yourself to learn about these and other social justice issues:

Discuss with your family:

  • How can we help in our school, synagogue, or community to reduce hunger in the broader community?
  • How can we be advocates for criminal justice?
  • How can we do our part to protect the environment for all?

Deborah Spencer is a rising senior at Washington University in Saint Louis, MO, double majoring in English and psychology. She served as an editorial intern in the Youth division at the URJ during the summer of 2017.