10 Questions: From Rosh Hashanah To Yom Kippur And Beyond

Whenever I think of Judaism three values come to mind: ritual, remembrance, and asking questions. I believe these have the potential of being quite potent elements in our lives if we are open to them. They can help us make meaning from our experiences and in practicing them they can enrich our lives in unique, deep, and even mystical ways. They are also collective experiences. Though they may be done individually, in essence they are relational, as they draw us into communion with others across time and space.

Haredi Jewish men walking through Jaffa Gate into the Old City, Jerusalem

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish “Day of Atonement”. It marks the culmination of the first ten days of the Jewish new year, the Hebrew month of Tishrei. For the week and a half since Rosh Hashanah, the new year, Jewish people around the world have been spending time in reflection and repentance, observing their life and making amends with God, others, and themselves. It has been a period of worldwide ritual, remembrance, and questions in the Jewish community.

Kippot (s. kippa)

Kippot (s. kippa)

I have to say, it is amazing to be in Jerusalem during these 10 days.  On Monday night I was walking to the bus station from a book club I attended.  Just outside the Old City walls I saw two tables set up and a few of men wearing kippot ( see photo) standing around.  I noticed one had something in his hands, I did a double-take.  Was that a live chicken?  Yes, Katie, yes it was.  I paused and watched.  The man holding the chicken raised it over another man’s head and circled it around the top of his head a couple times.  I asked my friend, who is a resident of Jerusalem, what just happened and she explained the chicken was being used to absorb the sins of the man—was a scapegoat.  I was amazed.  I had no idea such a thing still happened.  I mean, I knew people used to conduct animal sacrifices for the removal of sins, but did not know how, if at all, people carried on with this practice.  It seems this is what it has become, or this was one iteration at least. 

Another way people engage these 10 days is by reflecting on 10 different questions. A dear friend of mine has been doing just that for the past five years. This year she invited me to join in the collective experience. For, whether you are Jewish or not, the 10 questions are a great way for anyone to observe where you are, where you have come from, and where you are heading.

Woman praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

I am still working on the questions, not having any sense of obligation to complete them by today. So far process has been rich and also special, being that I am in Jerusalem and aware multitudes of people in my midst have been engaged in similar heart-felt reflection.

I have listed the questions below. While customarily people might make time for such inventory at the new year or perhaps a birthday, I invite you to make use of these at any threshold or transition that seems fitting.


1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

2. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you're especially proud of from this past year?

3. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

4. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

5. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? "Spiritual" can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

6. Describe one thing you'd like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

Prayer in the Western Wall, Jerusalem

Prayer in the Western Wall, Jerusalem

7. How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

8. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in the coming year?

9. What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

10. When September 2020 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you'll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you're at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

Katie Archibald-Woodward