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Guide To The High Holidays For Interfaith Families: Children on Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is a tough time to be a parent, if only because of the responsibility for preparing food for young children while fasting. Parents have to be aware of their children, who may be trying to behave well in long services next to them, or may be in babysitting or a children's service without them. It's also hard because the subject of right and wrong is so difficult to approach in a way that fosters moral development without causing the child to be fearful.

For children themselves, though, Yom Kippur is not so bad. Children are surprisingly interested in fasting and sin, and Yom Kippur is a quiet, contemplative day that gives them a chance to ask questions about right and wrong, God and religion.

Yom Kippur, more than any other holiday, is a holiday about growing up, because children aren't allowed to fast until they are 13, the age of bar or bat mitzvah. Plan to have a lot of conversations about who is and isn't allowed to fast! It's also a great time to talk about apologies and making amends. There are some good picture books for younger children about Yom Kippur, and retellings of the Book of Jonah, which is traditionally read during the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. Most synagogues do have children's services and activities for children. What they provide varies from pared-down prayers from the adult services to directed play and crafts projects.

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Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays.
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