How to Explain Yom Kippur to a Child: Simple & Engaging Approach

  • By: admin
  • Date: September 19, 2023
  • Time to read: 11 min.

Yom Kippur can be a daunting holiday to explain to children, especially if they are not familiar with Jewish traditions. However, it is important to teach them about the significance of this day and the customs associated with it. With the right approach, you can help your child understand the meaning behind Yom Kippur in a simple and engaging way.

Key Takeaways:

  • Use simple language to explain the meaning behind Yom Kippur
  • Focus on the importance of reflecting, apologizing and asking for forgiveness
  • Highlight the joy that comes from being forgiven and starting anew
  • Introduce Yom Kippur customs and symbols to make the holiday come to life

What is Yom Kippur?

If your child is wondering what Yom Kippur is all about, you can explain it simply as the most important day in the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement, a time for reflection, fasting, and repentance. It falls on the tenth day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which usually falls in September or October.

During this day, people pray for forgiveness, reflect on their mistakes, and ask for guidance on how to do better in the year ahead. They refrain from eating or drinking, wearing leather shoes, taking showers, applying oils and lotions, and engaging in any activities that could distract them from their prayers and reflections.

teaching yom kippur to children
Yom Kippur Essentials What They Represent
Kittel A white robe symbolizing purity and new beginnings.
Tallit A prayer shawl that covers the head and shoulders, symbolizing humility and connection to God.
Tefillin Two black leather boxes containing scrolls with Torah verses, worn on the head and arm during morning prayers, symbolizing devotion and obedience.

The day before Yom Kippur, people gather in the synagogue for a special service called Kol Nidre, where they recite a solemn prayer asking for forgiveness for any vows or oaths they may make in the coming year. During Yom Kippur, they attend several prayer services, including the Ne’ilah service, the closing service, which ends with the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn, symbolizing the hope for redemption and renewal.

What is Tzedakah?

Another important aspect of Yom Kippur is tzedakah, which means “charity” or “justice” in Hebrew. On this day, people are encouraged to give to those in need, whether through monetary donations or acts of kindness. This practice reflects the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or “repairing the world,” by making it a better, more just place for everyone.

Why is Yom Kippur Important?

If your child is curious about Yom Kippur, it’s important to explain why this holiday is so significant to Jewish people around the world. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a solemn and reflective time when individuals contemplate their actions over the past year and seek forgiveness for any mistakes they may have made. It’s a time to make amends and strive to be a better person in the coming year.

The holiday is based on the belief that individuals have the power to change, grow, and improve themselves. Yom Kippur is a reminder that we are all capable of making mistakes and that forgiveness is possible if we take responsibility for our actions and make a sincere effort to do better. It’s a time for reflection, introspection, and personal growth.

Yom Kippur is a time to let go of the past and look forward to a new beginning.

how to explain yom kippur to a child

During Yom Kippur, many Jews fast for 25 hours as a way of showing their devotion and commitment to the holiday. By depriving themselves of food and drink, individuals can focus on their spiritual needs and the importance of the day. It’s also customary to attend synagogue services, where prayers are recited and the Torah is read.

Yom Kippur is a day of reflection and prayer, a time to seek forgiveness and make amends.

Yom Kippur Traditions

There are several unique traditions associated with Yom Kippur that you and your child can participate in. One common tradition is to wear white clothing to symbolize purity and renewal. You may also choose to light candles in your home or attend synagogue services.

Another important tradition is to refrain from eating or drinking from sundown the evening before Yom Kippur until the following sundown. This fast is meant to help us focus on reflecting and atoning for our mistakes. If your child is too young to fast, encourage them to eat a healthy meal before the fast begins and remind them that they can still participate by refraining from snacks or treats throughout the day.

Tradition Meaning
Kapparot This is a ceremony where a chicken or money is waved around a person’s head to transfer their sins to the animal or object. Some people choose to donate the money to charity instead of performing the ceremony with a chicken.
Tashlich On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Jews traditionally go to a body of water and symbolically cast their sins into the water, expressing the hope that the current will carry their sins away.
Neilah The final service of Yom Kippur, known as Neilah, is especially beautiful. It is customary to open the Ark during this service as Jewish tradition teaches that at this time, the Gates of Heaven are closing.

It is important to remember that these traditions are meant to help us focus on atonement and renewal. Encourage your child to participate in traditions that feel comfortable and meaningful for them.

Kid-friendly Yom Kippur traditions

Explaining the Fast

Yom Kippur is a time for reflection and atonement. As part of this observance, individuals over the age of 13 are expected to fast for the entire day. This means abstaining from food and drink from sundown the evening before until the following night. Explaining this concept to a child can be challenging, but there are ways to make it easier to understand.

One way to explain the fast to children is by comparing it to taking a break from something you love. Just like how you might take a break from playing a game or watching a show to focus on something important, fasting is a way of taking a break from eating and drinking to focus on reflection and repentance.

You can also use this as an opportunity to teach children about empathy and the importance of considering others. Explain that some people may not have enough food to eat or access to clean drinking water, and by fasting for a day, you are choosing to experience a small taste of what those individuals might go through on a daily basis. Encourage children to think about ways they can help others in need.

yom kippur for children

Reflecting on Mistakes

Yom Kippur is a time to think about the past year and reflect on the mistakes you made. This can be a difficult concept to explain to a child, but it is important for them to understand that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay to admit them.

You can start by asking your child if they have ever done something wrong and how it made them feel. Then you can explain that Yom Kippur is a time for people to apologize for the things they did wrong and try to be better in the coming year.

You can also share a personal story about a mistake you made and how you learned from it. This will show your child that it is normal to make mistakes and that they can always learn from them.

It is important to emphasize that Yom Kippur is not just about apologizing, but also about making a plan to do better in the future. Encourage your child to think about what they can do to be kinder, more helpful, or better behaved in the coming year.

Remember, the goal of Yom Kippur is not to feel guilty or ashamed, but to learn from mistakes and grow as a person. It is a time for forgiveness and starting fresh.

Reflecting on Mistakes

The Joy of Forgiveness

Yom Kippur is a time for seeking forgiveness and being forgiven. It’s an opportunity to reflect on your actions and make amends for any wrongdoings. Forgiveness is a central theme of the holiday, and it’s important to understand the joy that comes with being forgiven and forgiving others.

When you seek forgiveness for your actions, it’s important to make sure that you are sincere in your apology. Acknowledge what you’ve done wrong and how it has affected others. Be specific in your apology and offer ways to make amends. When you apologize, you show that you are taking responsibility for your actions, and this can be a powerful moment for both you and the person you are apologizing to.

On the other hand, when you forgive someone, you are giving them a second chance. You are acknowledging that they made a mistake, but you are choosing to let go of your anger and move forward. Forgiveness can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that it can be liberating as well. When you forgive someone, you allow yourself to let go of negative emotions and focus on positive ones instead.

Tip: Encourage your child to think about a time when they forgave someone or were forgiven. Ask them how it made them feel and why it was important. This can help them understand the joy of forgiveness and the power it holds.

Remember, forgiveness is not just about the person who is apologizing or being forgiven, it’s about repairing relationships and moving forward. It’s about letting go of negative emotions and focusing on positive ones. When you seek forgiveness and forgive others, you are opening yourself up to new opportunities and a brighter future. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Yom Kippur Joy of Forgiveness

Yom Kippur Symbols

Yom Kippur is rich in symbols that have deep meanings for Jews. These symbols help to understand the holiday’s significance and inspire its observance.

One of the most prominent symbols of Yom Kippur is the tallit, a prayer shawl. It is usually white, symbolizing purity and the hope for forgiveness. The tallit is worn during the Kol Nidrei prayer, which marks the beginning of the holiday.

The shofar, a ram’s horn, is also an essential symbol of Yom Kippur. It is blown at the end of the fast to signify the conclusion of this solemn day. The shofar’s piercing sound serves as a reminder to reflect on one’s actions and repent for any misdeeds.

The ketoret, a unique incense blend, is another significant Yom Kippur symbol. It was used in the ancient times during the service in the Temple in Jerusalem. Now it is recited before Ne’ilah, the closing service of Yom Kippur. The ketoret’s fragrance is believed to symbolize the sweet smell of righteousness and purity, as well as the hope of a better future.

Other symbols include the white garments worn by worshippers on Yom Kippur, which are also a symbol of purity and spiritual renewal, the Book of Life, which is said to be opened and inscribed on this day, and the concept of Teshuvah, which represents repentance and the opportunity to start anew.

Yom Kippur Symbols

These symbols play a crucial role in helping children understand the meaning and significance of Yom Kippur. They can also be a source of inspiration, encouraging us to embrace the values of reflection, repentance, and forgiveness throughout the year.


Now that you have a better understanding of Yom Kippur, you can explain this important Jewish holiday to your child in a way that is simple and engaging. Start with the basics and build up to the deeper meanings behind the traditions and rituals associated with the holiday. By teaching your child the importance of reflecting on mistakes and seeking forgiveness, you can help them cultivate a sense of empathy and responsibility for their actions.

Remember, teaching your child about your faith and culture is an ongoing process. Don’t be afraid to answer their questions or seek out additional resources to help deepen their understanding. With your guidance, your child can develop a deep appreciation for Yom Kippur and all that it represents.

Can the Fun & Easy-to-Understand Guide Approach Be Used to Explain Yom Kippur to a Child?

Yom Kippur is a significant holiday in Judaism, but explaining its nuances to a child can be challenging. However, using a fun and easy-to-understand guide approach, we can make it simpler. Picture this: Yom Kippur is like a special day when people take a timeout from everything to say sorry for any mistakes they made. It’s a bit like your favorite game, scrum explained in a child-friendly way, where everyone stops and agrees to start fresh.


Q: How do I explain Yom Kippur to a child in a simple and engaging way?

A: Explaining Yom Kippur to a child can be done by emphasizing that it is a special Jewish holiday where people spend the day reflecting on their actions and seeking forgiveness. You can explain that it is a time to say sorry for any mistakes they may have made and to make things right with others. It is also a day of fasting and prayer to show commitment to making positive changes.

Q: What is Yom Kippur?

A: Yom Kippur is a significant Jewish holiday known as the Day of Atonement. It is considered the holiest day of the year in Judaism. On this day, Jewish people observe a solemn and reflective day of fasting, prayer, and repentance. It is a time to seek forgiveness for any wrongdoings and to make amends with others.

Q: Why is Yom Kippur important?

A: Yom Kippur is important because it allows individuals to reflect on their actions and seek forgiveness. It provides an opportunity for personal growth, self-reflection, and making amends. It is a time to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and strive to become a better person.

Q: What are the traditions associated with Yom Kippur?

A: Some of the traditions associated with Yom Kippur include fasting, attending synagogue services, reciting prayers, and refraining from certain activities, such as wearing leather shoes or engaging in physical pleasures. Lighting candles, giving to charity, and spending time in self-reflection are also common traditions.

Q: How do you explain the fast on Yom Kippur to children?

A: When explaining the fast on Yom Kippur to children, it can be helpful to focus on the idea of demonstrating commitment and self-discipline. You can explain that fasting means not eating or drinking for a certain period of time, usually from sundown to sundown. It is a way to show dedication to the observance of Yom Kippur and to focus on prayer and reflection.

Q: How can children reflect on their mistakes during Yom Kippur?

A: Children can reflect on their mistakes during Yom Kippur by thinking about their actions and behaviors over the past year. Encourage them to think about things they may have done that they feel sorry for or wish they could have done differently. It can also be helpful to discuss how they can make amends or learn from those mistakes.

Q: What is the joy of forgiveness during Yom Kippur?

A: The joy of forgiveness during Yom Kippur comes from the belief that by seeking forgiveness and making amends, individuals can start fresh and begin anew. It is a time to let go of past wrongdoings and move forward with a clean slate. The joy comes from the opportunity to grow, change, and improve oneself.

Q: What are the symbols associated with Yom Kippur?

A: Some of the symbols associated with Yom Kippur include the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn), which is blown to mark the end of the holiday, and the tallit (prayer shawl), which is worn during prayer services. The Book of Life, a metaphorical book in Jewish tradition, is also often mentioned during Yom Kippur.

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