Simple Reflection Activities to Deepen Learner's Connections to Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur marks a period of introspection and reflection. From our vast trove of learning materials, we rounded up some simple resources for you to to inspire learners to look inward as they start this new year.

For young learners 

Mindfulness Moment (from Let's Discover Fall Holidays)

Have children close their eyes and take three slow, deep breaths. Tell them to wrap their arms around themselves, and imagine they are hugging someone whose feelings they might have hurt. Tell them to notice what the hug feels like: Is it strong or gentle? Ask them to think of sending an apology to the person they're hugging and send a silent message such as "I'm sorry" or "Can you forgive me?" Take three more breaths, then have them open their eyes. Explain they they do not have to share what they were just thinking. It's private, just as it's private when we pray. Allow them to share how it felt to imagine apologizing. Encourage them to think about the difference between imagining it and actually doing it. (it's a relief to imagine it, even if it's not real; it feels as if you're doing the right thing; it might be harder to say it for real because the person might not forgive you; it can be embarrassing to admit you hurt someone.)

I'm Sorry (Sort of) (from Let's Discover Kindness) Children are sometimes instructed to apologize when they really don't feel sorry for their actions. Give learners the following scenario: "Has someone ever apologized to you in a way that showed they didn't mean it? Like, "Mom told me to say I'm sorry." Then say: "If someone doesn't feel truly sorry, would you want an apology anyway? Why or why not?" Lead a discussion about whether it's better to apologize right away, even if you don't feel sorry, or later, when you do. Does their answer change if they are the person who was hurt? Does an apology feel different if it comes much later (hours, days)?

Have children practice acknowledging they have hurt someone. Even if they (and adults too) feel remorse, it's hard to find the words to apologize. Brainstorm some ideas (you are sad, and I'm sorry I made you sad; I know I would not like that, and it was not the right thing to do.)

For any age

Self-Evaluation (from Resource Library)

The High Holidays give us opportunity to reflect upon the past year, and evaluate our actions to see how we measure up. Make this concept concrete by bringing measuring tools to the group (scale, ruler, plumb line, level, etc.). Discuss the purpose of such tools: Let each person measure something and adjust, if necessary. Tell learners that this is the time of year when we stop and measure ourselves. What tool do we use? How do we know what kind of corrections or adjustments we need?

Either individually, or with a partner, ask learners to complete the following sentences:
1. Of all things I did last week, the one thing that made me feel best about myself was… (describe)
2. I think I measure up to what my friends want me to do when I… (give an example)
3. I think I measure up to what my teachers want me to do when I…
4. I think I measure up to what my parents want me to do when I…
5. I think about questions like these (e.g. how do I measure up…?) when I…
6. When I don’t measure up to what I think my friends expect of me, it makes me feel…
7. When I don’t measure up to what I think my parents expect of me, it makes me want to…

Continue this activity by asking learners to keep a journal during the coming month. Ask the students to reflect on the following: things they have done well, things they could have done better, and a goal for the next day.

A Clean Slate (from The Jewish Educator's Companion) Have students bring in an old coat with a lot of pockets or an empty backpack, as well as a lot of bags with handles. Then have them write with a marker on various size stones (that you bring in) some of the things they did that year that represent poor choices. The size of the stone they pick should correspond to how “big” they think the bad choice (cheit) was. For example, cheating on a test might be a really big rock, whereas taking an extra chocolate chip cookie when mom wasn’t looking might be smaller.  As they finish writing on each rock, have them add it to a bag (for big rocks) or their coat pockets or the backpack (for smaller stones).  Have students walk around while wearing the coat or backpack and carrying the bags.  As they add more and more rocks to their pockets and bags, it starts to weigh them down.  As they are weighted down, discuss this image of Yom Kippur: 

All year long we weigh ourselves down more and more with the not-so-great choices we make and the problematic things we have done. But on Yom Kippur, when we sincerely ask for forgiveness and promise to try hard not to repeat our mistakes, God lovingly turns us upside down, gives us a little shake, and all the rocks and pebbles fall out. 

Have students put down their bags and empty their pockets or backpacks, putting all the stones from the whole class in a pile. Then have students pick up the empty bags and wear the lighter coats and walk around. How does it feel? Are they ready for a new year? What will they do differently in the coming year?  

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