A New Lens on Yom Kippur

Yesterday, we headed to the sanctuary and sat on the bimah in the dark stillness of a rainy afternoon. We read aloud “Tear Water Tea,” by Arnold Lobel. (Thanks, Mish Zion, for suggesting the story!)

One child exclaimed, “Oh! I get it. Tears are like the bad things. Like, the bread you throw into the water.”

Another child continued, “Yeah, Yom Kippur is like getting rid of all the bad things you’ve done…”

“Or you feel,” said a third child.

“And then you keep feeling better.”


Next, we lay quietly and listened to Kol Nidre, one of the opening, solemn, prayers of Yom Kippur. What connection do you make between “Tear Water Tea” and Kol Nidre?

“It sounded sad.”


“At the beginning, there are the sounds like waves and tears are like water.”

“But there wasn’t a happy part!” “No, that part at the end was happy, like major [chords].”

We listened again to see what we thought. Children agreed that the ending chord was happy, but that essentially, Kol Nidre was very, very sad. One child read aloud a reflection to the side of Kol Nidre in the machzor (prayerbook on the High Holydays) and said it made sense that Kol Nidre was so sad, because it was about broken promises.


Then we saw, further down the page, that the rabbis who put together our prayers said that we should say, “And Adonai said: “I have forgiven according to your word. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, סָלַחְתִּי כִּדְבָרֶךָ” three times. (Children had already explored this text early this month, especially, comparing God’s forgiveness with God’s consoling/relaxing.) Why three times?

“That’s the happy part!”

“‘Cause there’s all this sadness and it gets rid of the sadness.”

“But you still have all day for Yom Kippur. But at least it’s a little hopeful.”


And then they pulled it all together for themselves:

“Yom Kippur is a day to get all of the sadness out of you.”

“All of these sad things build up and then you let them all out and start the new year happy. And you want to do it at the new year so you can start the year like that.”

“‘Cause then it’s washed away.”



Here we are, explaining ideas about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to our peers.



“I had thought Yom Kippur was sad, but I hadn’t thought of getting everything out.”

“I had thought Yom Kippur was letting everything out but I hadn’t thought of it as sad.”

“You thought the opposite of me!”

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