Rabbi Meir Muller plans to pass out sweet honey cakes to his students at the Columbia Jewish Day School Friday, blessing them as they depart to begin the Yom Kippur holiday with their families.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, begins at dusk Friday. As Midlands area Jews prepare for the Day of Atonement and the culmination of the High Holy Days, they also help their children understand the meaning of the day by teaching them the power of seeking forgiveness from God.
For the 2-year-olds, the youngest children at the Jewish Day School, that may mean a simple lesson in saying “I’m sorry” when there is a tiff over a toy or an unkind push on the playground, Muller, the school’s principal said Thursday.
For older pre-schoolers, there may be skits that act out the meaning of forgiveness and the joy that comes from embarking on a new year and a new beginning.
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“The 3- and 4-year-olds learn that it is a solemn day but it is a joyous day as well,” Muller said. “God forgives all of our negative actions and he seals us for the coming year.”
Kindergarteners make a Yom Kippur book that illustrates ways to ask for forgiveness through a child’s eyes. Elementary children dig deeper, learning about the steps of repentance codified by Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher of the Medieval period.
The Midlands synagogues will be open all day Saturday for prayer and many adults will fast during Yom Kippur.
At Tree of Life Congregation, the children will read the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale and talk about what it means to hide, like Jonah, from God.
“We read the story of Jonah on Yom Kippur and I always try to do some variation on that so the kids can understand and feel all the emotions,” said education director Risa Strauss. “Here is Jonah who is hiding from God, and why he is hiding and how does he come face to face with God.”
She said the children learn that “saying sorry goes both ways and that the person you are saying sorry to has to accept your apology. Sometimes you have to say you’re sorry more than once.”
Renowned conductor and USC professor Donald Portnoy will be performing Kol Nidrei on the violin Friday evening at the synagogue, she said. Strauss said Jews all over the world listen to the chanting of Kol Nidrei, which means “all my promises/vows” on the eve of Yom Kippur. Max Witherell will be performing Kol Nidrei on the bassoon at the 1:45 p.m. family service at Tree of Life.