Our Stories

Layers of Meaning for Yom Kippur

By Jenni Mangel, Director of Educational Leadership, Jewish LearningWorks
Reading time: 2 minutes.

On October 6, 1973 my parents lived in Jerusalem where my dad was a grad student at the Hebrew University and my mom was a swim instructor at the YMHA. They were North American newlyweds immersed in Israeli culture and society. October 6th was Yom Kippur, and like many Jewish Israelis, they were engaged in a day of contemplative reflection.

Because they were accustomed to the quiet streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat and holidays, they noticed a change in the middle of that fall day. Surprisingly and suddenly, there were cars, trucks, and military vehicles out on the roads. Soon they learned that Israel’s borders had been breached, their friends were being called up to active military duty, and war was upon them. Over the next 19 days life was turned upside down.

Decades later, while my dad and I walked home from Kol Nidre services together in our small Northern California town, he shared his memories of being in Jerusalem at that time and what it meant to see his dear friends called up to active duty. He shared about leaving his role as a university student to volunteer at the hospital, and about a pervasive sentiment of uncertainty. When we got home, he got down a box of photographs from the years they lived in Israel and the stories continued.

Growing up I always found the healing, relational, and connected practices of Yom Kippur powerful. But that year the holiday took on an additional meaning for me. My dad’s storytelling turned Yom Kippur into a day that connected me to the narrative of Israel. It illustrated our individual and collective vulnerability and the potential, promise, and requirements of peace. His stories layered my insular personal reflection with a lens of communal wellness, safety, and security.

As the sun sets tonight and we enter a precious and holy day of reflection, may we be aware of our words, the stories that we tell, and the way they shape the minds of the next generation.

Above all, may our words and actions bring us towards peace.