A few years ago, a reader in rural Japan asked me for some Yom Kippur resources to help him celebrate the holiday despite his distance from Jewish community. I wanted today to point to that post again, in case it's helpful to any of y'all, and I also wanted to offer some newer resources I've found in recent days. So first, that original Y"K resource post is here -- Grab-bag of resources for Yom Kippur. And secondly, here are some other things you might find useful if you're looking for inspiration before the holiday or if you're rolling your own observance:
At the journal Kerem, a few pieces from the current issue are online, including this Unetaneh Tokef article [.pdf download] by my friend and teacher Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan. The article contains a creative rendering of a few lines of the prayer, plus beautiful commentary on what it means to her. "Every day is the Day of Judgement, but some days are more the day of judgement than others... For me, a Day of Judgement is a day that demands I open up to the flow of compassion."
From a homegrown machzor (HHD prayerbook) we used at Elat Chayyim in 2004, here's a beautiful Prayer Before Yom Kippur.
Maybe you're not going to be in synagogue this Yom Kippur. Maybe that feels to you vaguely like yet another thing for which you need to atone. But it's not necessarily so, and you're not alone: for more on that, read Rabbi Rami Shapiro's What To Do If You Don't Go To Shul? "I don’t relate to the metaphor of God as father, king, and lord; I don’t believe that God is in control of my life; and I find the medieval worldview of the machzor (High Holy Day prayer book) incompatible with what I know to be true about life. So rather than sit and complain, I stay home. // I am not alone in this, and this post is for those Jews who choose to stay home for the Holy Days. What shall you do with your time? Let me share what I do with mine."
In my previous list of resources, I included sheet music for Kol Nidre, the prayer releasing us from our unmet vows of the year now ending so we can begin the new year with a clean slate. For many Jews it's one of the most poignant musical moments of the year. Here are a few different renditions on YouTube: Mordechai Ben David, with piano; sung in beautiful harmony by Kol Achai, an a cappella trio; sung by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, with instruments and whistling and heartfelt song; Max Bruch's Kol Nidre (instrumental, with cello and orchestra). Unfortunately I couldn't find a recording of a woman singing Kol Nidre...
A few years ago I posted 13 Ways of Looking at Yom Kippur, a series of short vignettes about the experience of Yom Kippur on retreat at Elat Chayyim / Isabella Freedman. I'm linking to it here because some of the sections contain teachings which might be meaningful for others this Yom Kippur.
My rebbe, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, has some wonderful wisdom to give over about the Days of Awe. Here's some of that wisdom: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Rosh Khodesh [4 minutes, YouTube]. He uses occasional Hasidic and kabbalistic terminology, which may or may not be familiar to you, but even if some of the words fly past you, his teachings are beautiful.
Here's another Reb Zalman video -- this one very recent; this is Reb Zalman speaking via Skype to Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community in Jerusalem, on September 14, 2010: Reb Zalman on Yom Kippur at Nava Tehila, Jerusalem. "Yom Kippur is when we can press the defragmentation button on our souls to put ourselves back into onement, clear out the accumulated cookies and links that take us to places we’re no longer interested in, remove downloads that are no longer relevant, erase a lot of the accumulated junk that has penetrated and clutters the operating system, create more space on the disk of our lives..." If you can read Hebrew, here's a link to the various texts from Zohar and midrash etc to which he refers. This is a long one: about an hour in duration.
If you're looking for shorter nuggets of wisdom, here are a few brief videos of some of his teachings on the Days of Awe, these recorded a few years ago: Reb Zalman on High Holidays, part 1 of 4 [9 minutes, YouTube]. And part 2 of 4 [9 minutes, YouTube]. And part 3 of 4 [9 minutes, YouTube]. And finally part 4 of 4 [2.5 minutes, YouTube]. These remarks are pretty far-ranging: kabbalah, the Days of Awe, the holiday cycle, feminist theology & more.
The prayer "Avinu Malkeinu" -- "Our Father, Our King" -- is central to the Days of Awe, and my previous Y"K resources post included links to some written variations on it. Here are two versions of the prayer (both on YouTube) which you can listen to rather than reading on the page: Avinu Malkeinu, sung in Hebrew and in Arabic. And: Avinu Malkeinu on piano.
On the Shalom Center's YouTube channel, here's a six-minute video called A New Martyrology. It's a contemporary reconceptualizing of the traditional martyrology service. In the traditional service, we remember ten great rabbis who were martyred by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. This video interweaves those martyrs with remembrances of more contemporary martyrs, including Harvey Milk and Yitzchak Rabin, may their memories be for blessing.
It isn't the Days of Awe unless you've heard the sound of the shofar! Here's a link to a page which contains embedded video of Rabbi Shai Gluskin blowing shofar.
If you're looking for more inspirational reading material, I recommend Feeding the God of Compassion, a Yom Kippur eve sermon by Rabbi Brant Rosen. "[I]f the Torah teaches us that human beings are made in the image of God, which image of God will we proclaim? The God of fear or the God of forgiveness? The God of hatred or the God compassion? The God of xenophobia or the God of justice?" This sermon enters some fascinating territory (neuroscience!) and I really like where it goes.
I recently posted a new translation of the haftarah (reading from the prophets) which we read on Yom Kippur, and I'm including it here as well: a new translation of Isaiah for Yom Kippur. "This is the fast I want: / unlock the chains of wickedness, / untie the knots of servitude. / Let the oppressed go free, / their bonds broken..."
One practical thing I wanted to mention is that it's customary in many communities to wear a tallit for the Kol Nidre service on the eve of Yom Kippur. Although we traditionally don't wear tallitot at night, Kol Nidre is meant to be recited before sundown -- before the festival technically begins -- and the wearing of the tallit on erev Yom Kippur can be seen as a tangible gesture of enfolding oneself in the holiday's holiness. It's also traditional in many communities to wear white on Yom Kippur. Traditional Jewish burial garments are made of simple white linen; Yom Kippur is sometimes understood as a rehearsal for our death, which wearing white can symbolize. (Another interpretation holds that we wear white on Yom Kippur in emulation of ministering angels; still another, that we wear white as an external sign of internal purity.)
Many of us may have grown up thinking of Yom Kippur as a day of affliction. Tradition prohibits bathing, perfumes, wearing of leather, sex -- not to mention eating food, which is one of ordinary life's pleasures! But the Misnha tells us that Yom Kippur was historically a day of joy. We have many metaphors for the extraordinary closeness between humanity and God on Yom Kippur: the Gates of Repentance are open, God's presence is especially palpable, the King is receiving His subjects, the division between transcendence and immanence collapses, etc. It's a solemn day, but also a day which is meant to contain deep joy.
Whatever your Yom Kippur may hold, I wish you a Shabbat shalom and a g'mar chatimah tovah -- may you be sealed for a good year to come.