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Yom Kippur is the ultimate to do list. It is the moment when we leave behind our everyday lives and get deep in our relationship with the Divine. Before we can just be, we have a few final things to do.
Give to charity. Start tapering off that caffeine. Make amends. Select an outfit of white clothing. Reflect and pray. Eat a big meal, but not too big. Return to your altar and light a memorial candle for your ancestors.
Use this booklet on Yom Kippur evening (also known as Kol Nidre) or during the day of Yom Kippur to guide you through the process of repentance and rededication.
Kol Nidre Chant
By Kohenet Keshira HaLev Fife
Kol nidre is not for beating our chests
Kol nidre is for returning to our best
Kol nidre is for releasing every vow
Kol nidre come to presence here and now
At-one-ment, at-one-ment, reflect and take it slow
At-one-ment, at-one-ment, release and let it go
At-one-ment, at-one-ment, return to where we start
At-one-ment, at-one-ment, aligning with our hearts
Kol Nidre means “all vows,” and this hauntingly beautiful prayer is also a legal ritual, releasing us from all our broken promises from the past year. Once we declare these collective failures nullified, we are able to move into the rest of Yom Kippur together.
All vows and prohibitions and oaths …
that we may vow or swear or prohibit upon ourselves
from this Yom Kippur until the Yom Kippur that is coming upon us for goodness—
regarding all of them, we repudiate them.
All of them are undone, abandoned, cancelled, null and void, not in force, and not in effect.
Our vows are no longer vows, and our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we read the traditional confessional prayer, the Vidui, which has two parts: Ashamnu and Al Chet. Both are written in the first person plural. No matter who surrounds us, we share the responsibility for what we have done wrong and the obligation to do better in the future. Recently, positive versions of the Ashamnu have emerged, helping us appreciate where we have done well in the past year.
These modern interpretations can help you to reflect on where you’ve made mistakes and where you’ve created good in the world. Some people have a custom of beating their fist against their heart as they confess each sin, and of massaging their hearts with an open hand for every appreciation.
We have behaved arrogantly We have adored
We have betrayed ourselves and others We have blessed ourselves and others
We have acted out of contempt We have comforted
We have been dishonest We have directed our energies toward truth
We have erred out of ignorance We have been empathetic
We have forgotten who we are We have forgiven past wrongs
We have gossiped We have grown
We have been hypocritical We have helped even when we weren’t asked
We have been insensitive We have insisted on loving each other
We have justified bad decisions We have been just
We have killed our impulse to do good We have been kind
We have looked the other way We have learned
We have been mean We have been merciful
We have been neglectful We have nursed compassion from scorn
We have acted out of fear instead of love We have been open-minded
We have pushed too much We have spoken positively
We have been quiet when we should have spoken up We have questioned in a healthy way
We have refused to help when we had the ability We have respected our friends and family
We have slandered We have supported strangers
We have taken from others when we had enough for ourselves We have cultivated truth
We have been untrue We have unlearned falsehoods
We have behaved violently We have validated each others’ feelings
We have withheld what could have been given freely We have been willing to change
We have been xenophobic We have experienced pure joy
We have yielded to our worst impulses We have yearned for a better future
We have zealously protected evil-doers We have zestily given our best
Positive Vidui adapted from Rabbi Avi Weiss: https://opensiddur.org/prayers/lunisolar/high-holy-days/life-affirming-vidui-by-rabbi-avi-weiss/
And G!d says: "And you shall make sure that every time you list the litany of your ugly, and your rotten and your wicked, you end the litany with a prescription for how to move on from it - through reflection, reparation and repair - so that you do not get stuck in the ugly, which is mighty and sticky and will close your ears to the shofar and keep you asleep and in despair.”
And G!D says: "Rosh Hashanah has another name: Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance. And Yom Kippur is called the Day of Judgement. But on Yom Kippur, we cast aside all things that allow us to forget the horrors of the world. All our escape routes. All our distractions. We wake today to face the horrors head-on, so if you want to call Yom Kippur the Day of Staying Woke, that works, too."
And G!d says: “And on this day, you will not be able to turn to another for comfort or escape, but instead must hold yourself. You will surprise yourself with how much enough you are.”
And G!d says: "And lo, let us go. Go deep. Go in. You have done what you can. And now is the time to face yourself. Go with courage, for you are doing the work of the righteous. Go with comfort, for you have not given up. Go with trembling, for though you are small, you are an indispensable part of the greatness. You are necessary. You are essential. You are here."
And G!d says: "And on Yom Kippur, you shall pull away from the pleasures of music, food, drink, but most of all - touch. On this day, you may not lose yourself in another, must withdraw from the dizzying drama of the community, to be alone with yourself - and this is holy work. It is not selfishness. Ultimately, it will lead you out of loneliness."
And G!d says: "Why you remind yourself that your origin is dust, and your end is dust, and humans are but a flock of vanishing dreams: you can't do this work from high up. The work is to be done from your most vulnerable place ~ and what faster way to get vulnerable than go deep into mortality? Shine your lantern on the rotten, the ugly, the stinking guts of yourself, reeking with shame and bile. Bring it to the light. Then get to work."
And G!d says: "And when you have wrung yourself out, and it is the middle of the afternoon, and you are together wailing, take a break. Go outside and smell the garden herbs, go to the couch and rest. Do not do Torah Yoga, for that is an abomination and appropriative as all get-out. But stretch your beaten, hungry body, and give it what care you are permitted on Yom Kippur. To find self-kindness in the midst of atonement - that is the holiest part of the day."
And G!d says: "And when you face the ugly, you will do so with your fist upon your chest, beating at the place where your heart hides, in the hope that you will crack yourself open and let the light in."
And G!d says: "That when you cannot face the ugly because it is too hard and you hurt too much, that's why we have a book full of prayers, idiot. To give yourself a scaffolding through the process of acknowledgment and repentance. So open it and find something that resonates, because otherwise you might get stuck feeling guilty instead of moving towards healing. Keep moving, even when you're not doing it perfectly. Perfection is the enemy of t'shuvah"
From Dane Kuttler's The G!d Wrestlers, The Social Justice Warrior's Guide to the High Holy Days, Sept. 2015
Yom Kippur includes a dedicated moment, called Yizkor, to collectively remember lives lost. We ask that our loved ones find mercy and peace in their eternal rest, and by doing this we keep their memories alive even as they no longer take breath.
Traditionally, a memorial yahrzeit candle lasts for the full 24 hours of Yom Kippur, but you can use any long-burning candle. Stare into the flame and hold for a moment the memories of those who no longer walk among us. Whether the loss is recent and tender, or in our distant past; whether lost to illness or injustice; whether dear to us or unknown or martyrs to a cause.
יִתְגַּדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא. בְּעָלְמָא דִּי בְרָא כִרְעוּתֵהּ וְיַמְלִיךְ מַלְכוּתֵהּ בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן וּבְחַיֵּי דְכָל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב. וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא
יִתְבָּרֵךְ, וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח,וְיִתְפָּאֵר, וְיִתְרוֹמֵם, וְיִתְנַשֵּׂא, וְיִתְהַדָּר, וְיִתְעַלֶּה, וְיִתְהַלָּל, שְׁמֵהּ דְקֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא. לְעֵלָּא מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא,תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֱמָתָא, דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהֵא שְׁלָמָה רבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא וְחַיִּים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְֹרָאֵל,וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
עשֶֹׁה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶֹה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְֹרָאֵל וְעַל כָּל יוֺשְׁבֵי תֵבֶל, וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
Mourners: Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba b'alma di-v'ra chirutei, v'yamlich malchutei b'chayeichon uvyomeichon uvchayei d'chol beit yisrael, ba'agala uvizman kariv, v'im'ru: "amen."
Everyone: Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varach l'alam ul'almei almaya.
Mourners: Yitbarach v'yishtabach, v'yitpa'ar v'yitromam v'yitnaseh, v'yithadar v'yit'aleh v'yit'halal sh'mei d'kud'sha, b'rich hu, l'eila min-kol-birchata v'shirata, tushb'chata v'nechemata da'amiran b'alma, v'im'ru: amen.
Y'hei shlama raba min-sh'maya v'chayim aleinu v'al-kol-yisrael, v'im'ru: amen.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol-yisrael, v'al kol-yoshvei teivel, v'imru: amen.
Mourners: May the Name that fills all names be blessed and strengthened in this created world.
May the Breath of Life that fills all breaths fill us with Life, and may it guide and rule our actions and visions, in our lives and in our time, now in this world, and in every moment to come.
And let us say: Amen.
Everyone: May that great Name be blessed within us and in all worlds, for all time.
Mourners: May Holiness stream forth from its Source, full of blessing and beauty. May the Name that weaves all Life be blessed and praised, made beautiful and resplendent, lifted up and exalted, to the highest and most majestic. Blessed be! Beyond all the praises and blessings and songs and prayers that can ever be said in the whole world. And let us say:
Mourners: May the Life and Love within us and between us be strengthened. May the Breath that fills all breaths fill the Cosmos with Peace, and may Peace and Life flow to us, to our community, to all peoples, and to all beings in this world. And let us say:
Mourners: The One who makes Peace in the furthest reaches of Creation will bring Peace to us and to all living beings. And let us say:
We Remember Them
by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer
At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.
Art from Seeker Season: 2020 Guide for the Curious and Courageous by Jessica Tamar Deutsch
Remember, God, the soul of ( my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my siblings, my husband, my wife, my partner, another close relative ) ( the name of the departed, child of the name of their parent ), who went to his/her/their world, because I will - without making a vow - give charity for her/him/them. In recompense for this, let his/her/their soul be bound with the Binding of life (God), with the soul of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous ancestors in the Garden of Eden. And let us say, Amen.
Remember, God, the soul of my parent, my teacher ( the name of the parent, child of the name of their parents ), who went to their world, because I will - without making a vow - give charity for them. In recompense for this, let their soul be bound with the Binding of life (God), with the soul of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and with the other righteous ancestors in the Garden of Eden. And let us say, Amen.
Ritual to End Yom Kippur
After 24 hours of asking, Yom Kippur ends with a declaration and a shout. We make a proclamation, then consider it done.
Write three intentions you have for the year ahead, then read them out loud. You can recite them multiple times. The traditional formula is 1, 3 and 7.
Intention #1 1x
Intention #2 3x
Intention #3 7x
Then the shofar is sounded one final, long, loud blast. If you cannot hear a shofar, shout as loud as you can for as long as you can.
Next year may we all be free!
Art from Seeker Season: 2020 Guide for the Curious and Courageous by Jessica Tamar Deutsch
Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul.
Return to who you are.
Return to what you are.
Return to where you are born and reborn.
What is Neilah - Closing the Gates
The sun is setting on this holy day, but our tradition still has an 11 o’clock number up its sleeve. Neilah refers to the closing of the gates and symbolizes the waning hours of our atonement. For weeks we’ve been digging into our souls, for days we’ve been apologizing, and for the last 24 hours we’ve been depriving ourselves of comfort while confessing our collective sins. Neilah is the final mile of the marathon. Whatever comes next and the clean slate of a new year is visible on the horizon. We close Yom Kippur with a song and a final ritual.