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Yom Kippur Social Justice Guide

The Yamim Nora-im, the High Holidays, are a time of personal reflection; we gaze at the past year and envision the year that is yet to be. As we stand again on the threshold of a New Year, we reaffirm our commitment to tikkun olam, repair of the world, through the actions we will take in the year to come.

During the High Holidays, two fast days are observed: Yom Kippur, and the lesser known Fast of Gedalia, commemorating the assassination of the last governor of Judea prior to the destruction of the First Temple. One of the key purposes of these fast days is to free us from our daily needs, giving us time to concentrate only on the tasks at hand: t’shuvah (repentance), t’filah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity).

At this most holy time of year, as we willingly deny ourselves sustenance, we also recognize some of the brokenness in our world. Rather than focusing on our own hunger during our ritual fast, we can turn our thoughts and our actions to the millions of people around the world who cry out daily in hunger.

You can incorporate social action themes into your Yom Kippur observance in the following ways.

Make Your Fast Meaningful

Dedicate your Yom Kippur fast to the millions of people worldwide who face hunger and starvation on a daily basis by donating the amount of money you would have spent to feed yourself and your family during the day to a hunger awareness/advocacy organization. One such organization, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, offers projects that connect hunger-related education and advocacy with the High Holidays.

Feed the Hungry

Among others, you might consider these activities to help feed the hungry in your own community:

  • Volunteer at a local food pantry or homeless shelter as a family.
  • Join a meal delivery program to deliver hot meals to homebound individuals.
  • Coordinate a High Holiday food drive.

Save a Life

There is much discussion in our High Holiday prayers of life and death. We read: “On Rosh HaShanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die.”

  • Sign up for a CPR or first aid class so you will be prepared to try to save a life should the need ever arrive.
  • Donate blood or platelets to help those in need of transfusions.
  • Nearly 18 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant, yet one organ donor can save as many as eight lives. Make sure your driver’s license designates you as an organ donor.
  • Register with the National Bone Marrow Registry to see if you are a match for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. The process is quick and virtually risk-free to the donor.

Clip Coupons

Ask friends and family to join you in saving unused manufacturers’ coupons for food and household products. Once you’ve collected a substantial amount (make sure they’re not expired!), donate these coupons to an agency that purchases food for the needy, like a food pantry.