Sign In Forgot Password

A Guide to Surviving Yom Kippur - Or Seven Tips to a Meaning-Filled Days of Awe

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are overwhelming and liturgically dense. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the experience. Worse, since we do it every year, it’s easy to let it all pass over us and get bored. Here follow seven tips to having a meaningful, spiritual, experience during the Holidays.

  1. Make the experience personal.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur speak directly to each one of us. What fears do you face this New Year? What memories do you have of other Holidays? The High Holidays confront us with the passage of time and mortality. It wants us to consider our hopes for ourselves and the future. If you imagine seeing yourself next year, what would you have hoped for from yourself in this year?


2. Write / Say your own prayers. The Machzor contains the prayers of Am Israel, of the Jewish people. If we allow ourselves to be limited by the confines of the book, we never allow ourselves to give voice to what is in our souls.  We ought to have moments where the printed page becomes irrelevant to our thoughts and prayers. Its words inspire us and challenge us – but then we relate and express our own personal concerns. What is your Avinu Malkeynu – what would you say to God as you approach the Divine Throne?  What is a personal confession – speak in “I” instead of we.  Personal prayer enriches, expands, and makes meaningful communal prayer.

3. Read the English. For most of us, the Hebrew can be read but not understood. For many, even reading the Hebrew is difficult or impossible. It is good to say the blessings (the Barukh Atah… sections) in Hebrew, but the rest can be recited in any language.  Our Machzor’s English translation was carefully and  lovingly edited by great scholars and poets. Their translation is true to the text and beautifully done in poetic English.  Use it!

4. Use the Transliteration. Music is the language of the soul. Further, congregational singing is one of the high points of a spiritual experience. Most of the songs we sing together have transliteration provided on the page.  In addition, humming along is perfectly appropriate. The music itself is as moving as the meaning behind the words. Even if the Hebrew is uncomfortable, allow yourself to be part of the music.

5. Bring or Borrow a Book. It is hard to stay focused on prayer for as long as the service lasts. It is perfectly appropriate to read something of a Jewish / High Holidays theme as Torah L’Shma – the study of Torah – during the service.  

6. Enjoy your Friends. The Holidays appropriately include a social component. It’s inspiring to be together with Jewish people. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are holy experiences of Am Yisrael, the Jewish people together. The warmth and camaraderie is an important part of what makes these days special. Stepping outside for a few minutes to talk with an old friend can be as meaningful as time spent in the service.  

7. Know that you are a good Jew. The Holidays are here to help us become better Jews. They are solemn days, not sad days. Particularly on Yom Kippur, the Machzor emphasizes our inadequacies in the face of God. It also emphasizes that the choices we make and the fact of our covenantal loving relationship with God bestow upon us tremendous value. Sometimes we feel judged and inadequate in the face of what we have failed to do.  The true purpose of the Holidays is to build us up and inspire us to do more.  

Yom Kippur is as meaningless or as meaning-filled as we choose. Openness and receptivity are needed tools. Allow the prayers to speak to you and you will find, in many cases, that they do. Remember that not every moment is a spiritual high, but some moments maybe if we are open to the possibility of experiencing God.

I wish the entire community a good, healthy, and prosperous New Year.


L’Shana Tova,

Rabbi David Booth

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784