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Forming Your Own Teshuva

In a time of unending (and often alarming) news updates, sometimes it feels like there’s no room or time for centering yourself. But having just celebrated the new year, and Yom Kippur being right around the corner, this may be the perfect time to get in tune with yourself.

Unlike Christianity, which is salvation-based, Judaism is behavioral-based; how we act and what we do dictates our life and place in the world. One of the great things about the Torah is the evolution if its interpretations. How we interpret what we should do and how to behave progresses with the times. Below are some 21st century updates on 5,000 year old traditions; perfect for the busy teenager looking to reconnect.

Below are some 21st century updates on 5,000 year old traditions; perfect for the busy teenager looking to reconnect.

Old Testament: Eruv Feast! A big dinner, typically with family or friends, eaten before sunset in order to gain strength for the 25 hour fast.

New Take: Plan a picnic with friends or family and have everyone bring a dish! The communal vibe and easy-going get together is a wonderful way to remind yourself of who you want to keep in your life.


"remind yourself of who you want to keep in your life."

(Image from Issue 4 by Lida Fox)

Old Testament: The ancient custom “kapparot.” Swing a live chicken and sack of coins above your head while reading aloud a prayer. The chicken and money is then donated to the poor.

New Take: Tzedakah takes many forms! Dealing with live barnhouse animals may not be your speed— no one’s judging. Explore donating to hurricane relief such as the Unidos Puerto Rico or Topos. If you’ve already given to hurricane victims, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are always accepting contributions.

Old Testament: Fasting. Abstain from eating or drinking in order to practice self-denial and honor the suffering of the Jewish people.

New Take: We fast for several reasons, so there’s many ways to create your own version of it. First things first: the Torah explicitly states that those who are sick should not fast. An eating disorder or mental illness that could be activated by fasting is just as valid a reason to not fast as any physical illness. Judaism reveres life. Put your health first.

If you are someone who is unable to fast for any reason, have no fear! Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, so now is the time to fess up about cheating on that math test or saying something not too kind about a friend. Actively seeking out those you have wronged, and apologizing, is the number one step in reparation. As for the honoring of Jewish peoples’ suffering, go-tos are lighting candles, reading up on Jewish history, or even saying (whether it’s the classic or your own version of) the Yizkor.


"If you are someone who is unable to fast for any reason, have no fear!"

(Image from Issue 1 by Sergi Serra Mir)

Old Testament: Wear white to symbolize purity and spiritual cleansing.

New Take: Wear what makes you feel in tune with yourself! Whether it’s a timeless jumper or an Obama shirt from 2012, actively deciding how you present yourself to the world will help you make more aware and more full choices in all aspects of life (not just fashion).

Old Testament: “Tashlich,” the act of gathering at a body of water, reciting prayers, and throwing in bread crumbs to represent past sins.

New Take: Tashlich is typically carried out on Rosh Hashanah but one can until the last day of Sukkot (October 11 this year). Try meditating on the beach, or feeding ducks at the local pond. Connecting with nature is a great way to cleanse yourself. Maybe you gravitate towards the idea of “drowning” past mistakes in water, and if so, find some biodegradable paper and write what you did wrong/how you’re going to change in the future. Place it in the water and feel mother nature absorbing even the parts you don’t like about yourself.

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"Connecting with nature is a great way to cleanse yourself."

(Image from Issue 5 by Coral Kiefer)

Old Testament: Blowing of the shofar to signify the end of Yom Kippur.

New Take: Blast your angry-girl-punk-Spotify playlist until the wee hours of the night. Okay, maybe not while people are trying to sleep or your brother’s studying in the next room. But get loud! Dance in your bedroom! Feel free! The shofar represents the receiving of the Torah, and you deserve to have carefree fun after repenting and learning from the past.

If none of the above piqued your interest, don’t be afraid to form your own traditions. If you have special activities or things that are important to you during Yom Kippur, embrace them. If they matter to you, they have intrinsic value already. G’mar Hatimah Tovah!