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How to Atone Like a Child

On Yom Kippur, kids will be kids

Marjorie Ingall
September 21, 2009
(Rosh Hashanah family service by runneralan2004 / Alan; some rights reserved.)
(Rosh Hashanah family service by runneralan2004 / Alan; some rights reserved.)

In the spirit of Delia Ephron’s classic How to Eat Like A Child, illustrated by Edward Koren (Harper, 2001), we offer a guide for our elementary-school-aged friends on how to celebrate the holiday.

Gently kick the back of the pew in front of you. Kick rhythmically to the cantor’s chanting, until your mother suddenly clamps her hand on your knee.

Stare into the Eternal Light until your eyes begin to water. Imagine it is a gateway to another dimension.

Flip ahead in the mahzor and read the Martyrology, the description of how 10 rabbis were tortured by the Romans on Yom Kippur after the destruction of the Second Temple. Read it again. Ponder which would suck the worst: being beheaded like Shimon Ben Gamliel, having your face flayed like Rabbi Yishmael, or having your skin raked with iron combs like Rabbi Akiva? Marvel that you are allowed to read this but were not allowed to go see “Final Destination 4.”

Attempt to count the shul’s ceiling tiles. Attempt to count the number of light bulbs in the chandeliers. Attempt to count the number of triangles in all the Jewish stars in the sanctuary. Attempt to count the number of Fannys and Isadores on the memorial plaques on the sanctuary walls. Try to find the funniest name.

Whisper to your mom, “Are you hungry?” Wait two minutes. Whisper “What about now?” Wait two minutes. Whisper “You know what I’d like? A big plate of fettuccini Alfredo. Oh wait, that’s your favorite, not mine.”

Rub the velvet on the pew so all the nap goes one way. Then rub it so that the nap goes the other way. Then write DOODY in the nap with your finger and erase it.

Braid the fringes of your father’s prayer shawl. Unbraid them. Wrap the fringes as tightly as you can around the tip of your finger and watch as your finger turns purple.

Wonder if it is too late to apologize to the cat for coloring her nose with a purple marker.

As the rabbi tells the story of Jonah and the Whale, ponder. Did the big fish start to digest Jonah before it barfed him up? Did it look like that guy’s acid-melted face in “Seed of Chucky”?

Imagine blowing the shofar. Imagine making the longest tekiyah gedolah anyone has ever heard, ever. Imagine the entire congregation just dumbfounded that you are only a kid and such an amazing talent. Imagine all the popular kids nodding at you with newfound respect in school on Monday and going, “Hey.”

Debate slipping the comic book inside your sweater into the mahzor. Maybe your mom will be too hungry to kill you.

Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine, and author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.