We urge you to look at our Rosh HaShana sections, especially the discussion topics there. There is much overlap in the "Let's Talk About It" sections of both, given the goals of teshuva, betterment and repentance at this time. The materials in the Yom Kippur "Overview" and "Worthwhile Information" sections are also full of useful directions to review and discuss. Here are just a few additional suggestions…

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"No Way, I'm Not Goin' to Nineva Now"

a whale

Wanna bet?
Jonah - This is certainly a very cool and riveting story with plenty of vivid imagery and adventure for a child (or anyone) – so even on that basis it can attract good interest from your kids or group.

One theme is inclusivity and universalism – e.g. warnings, second chances, better heeding, repenting, receiving mercy and forgiveness, etc. are not some exclusive province for Jews.

Another theme is that over-strictness together with religious parochialism is not always the wisest, best way to go. One needs to give some warnings and chances for repentance and change to those doing wrong if possible. Even if experience has told you in most past instances with others that your words will not be heeded, you still need to offer the chance. And there is an irony (and frustration for our protagonist prophet) that a foreign people indeed did heed his eventual warning, whereas his own people had ignored him too often. (One might say that even among the prophet profession there must have been what today we would call serious "burn-out" and building professional cynicism issues.)

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"Bonsha The Silent"

This is a classic short story written by I.L.Peretz, - only two paperback pages long. It's at least as relevant today as when it was written. It serves as a terrific basis for discussion from all sorts of angles: what is "righteous", how truly fitted judging things must be to each individual and circumstances, who should be judging and who judged… Peretz packed so much into so little. Practically every time we have used this story somewhere, new perspectives, questions and opinions have come up. It's also excellent for quick acting out, by the way, or extending it further into role-playing. (In some instances, people have taken an opposite tack and raised some thoughtful critical views of Bonsha and/or what he represents as well).

You can find a copy of "Bonsha the Silent" in pdf form at this link:

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The Difference Between This "Sorry" & That "Sorry"

It is a valuable gift to start to teach one's children about what sorry means, how to apologize and work to make things better. As well, we need to try to be good examples ourselves.
Here are just a few thoughts and questions to start you off (what you choose and what level will obviously vary widely):

  • Who do you respect more, someone who can admit they made a mistake and apologizes, or one who glosses over, excuses or hides it? (Children may well respect and trust a parent more who can admit that s/he also goofs up sometimes and takes real responsibility for it).
  • a teddy bear with a sign that says 'Sorry'What kind of saying "I'm sorry" is meaningless?
  • What makes an "I'm sorry" meaningful and helpful?
  • What really caused the hurt or harm?
    (One is usually better off – even though its harder – by acknowledging the specific nature of the pain inflicted. For example, did the person feel humiliated or disrespected? Then you need to address that issue of personal dignity somehow in your apology, right? Not addressing that would make the apology worse than meaningless, since it doesn't address the actual hurt or harm. In fact, you may cause just more hurt with such an "apology").
  • Sometimes you don't know the actual "hurt" and it may be better to hear first (I have hurt you somehow…). And even when you do know the specifics, "active listening" is too often overlooked. Oft-times the offended person needs just as much to express that hurt or offense to the person – hearing an "I'm sorry" being really only one part of this entire endeavor of making amends.
  • One would think it obvious, but too often we do not sufficiently stop to think- "how would it feel if I were in that other person's shoes and situation?" (For that matter, think of how often we may be as guilty of this as the kids). It is good to remember to take that extra time, think about that angle, extend yourself into the other's position somewhat (and if you do not know, and are fortunate enough to be able to ask them- then it might be good to try that when approaching them).
    Checking for feedback in communication is a good habit generally- like "is that what you meant and did I understand what you are saying"… We all have blind spots, just like when driving a car, which makes thoughtful, more attentive dialogue all the more important. That certainly also applies in many an apology and other making amends.
  • Approaching someone and expressing "I'm sorry" is an action. If it is not heartfelt and just mindlessly dashed off, then we are doing a different action and communicating (and/or teaching) a different message than what "I'm sorry" and making amends are supposed to be all about.
  • a clock that says 'Time for Truth'In short: 1) Admit you did something wrong. When possible, try to be (or find) the specific. Take responsibility for it being wrong (e.g.- what I did was wrong…). If you misunderstood the real nature of the hurt or offense, allow the other person to tell you that. Even if you got it correctly- listening to the other person express it is still important. 2) Review what happened, and again, don't dodge or make excuses. Sometimes there may be extenuating circumstances, sometimes not, sometimes it does not matter whether the harm was intentional or not. Sometimes saying "there's no excuse either way" is the best thing to admit too. 3) When you feel remorse - this is the time to express it. If you feel ashamed- express it. Genuine regret needs to be actually heard. 4) Discuss how to make amends. In some cases this involves things like being more sensitive. In other cases, it entails a more concrete wrong that requires further action on your part.
  • Even young children usually feel a desire already to want to do "right things". So that may be a good starting-off point - e.g. talking about what are some right things we do. How does that make us happy? When do we sometimes forget that? What are wrong things and how does that make us sad or angry? When we have some outburst, example: say something was "stupid"- were we feeling angry or hurt or disappointed or frustrated…. (yes, it takes lots of stages, patience and time with our littlest guys, and obviously goes much further than just the incidental Jewish calendar cycle here).
    Sometimes it is useful, instead of each time telling the child, to ask them: "If this wrong occurs, what do you think is the right thing to do afterwards?" "What kind of 'sorry' would I need to do?" "If I did this wrong and you were my mom, what would you tell me to do? Why?"…
  • Forgiveness is sometimes hard (at any age). Sometimes even harder than being the person saying I am sorry. It is good to reconsider some of the positives in being able to forgive, in those situations where this is at all possible.
  • Our more important interactions and relationships are built best on trust. That makes apologies, amends, good listening and dialogue all the more important.
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About That Scapegoat…

The origin of "scapegoat", or se-ir le-azazel , comes from one of the Torah portions read on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16: 1-34). The High Priest would take two goats, one to be slaughtered as an offering to God, and the "luckier" one would be the designated scapegoat . The people's sins would be symbolically transferred to the goat, who was supposedly allowed to run off to the desert (although the poor creature may have been more permanently removed so as not to be able to wander back).

  • (Yes, one could note there's some irony that we of all people had a scapegoat ritual.)
  • (Yes, one can feel bad for that poor goat. This might also generate a discussion on kindness to other creatures, and not trading in one set of poor behaviors for another.)
  • What "scapegoats" can we identify in popular culture today?
  • When are we ourselves guilty of "scapegoating" or making excuses or projecting the problem onto someone or something else, instead of taking personal responsibility for something?
  • On the flip side, sometimes you need some fuller feeling of a "clean new start". Getting too stuck and too overwhelmed in only regrets of should-of's, would-of's, could-of's is not going to help matters along either. There is then something useful and satisfying in a suitable ritual - like the tashlich customs described in our Rosh HaShana material – that also sometimes helps you to get going again with a renewed feeling and perspective. Look at it as evaluating and identifying what was wrong and/or what has held you back, and symbolically ditching it as you start anew. Even be creative and discuss another substitute (inanimate) tradition or ritual for that innocent goat that you and your family or group might share and put together. (Maybe brainstorm thinking up a new better name to replace "scapegoat" with too.)