Yom Kippur Yizkor Service for Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault

This alternative Yizkor service was first done at Dickinson College’s Hillel on Yom Kippur 5775. Written as part of a Lifecycle class at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I chose to create a specific service for the afternoon of Yom Kippur that held personal healing, communal outrage, and political action. All together, this service creates the necessary container for these intentions.

At Dickinson, students looked to their friends and colleagues in other faith communities, and we collaborated with other faith groups on campus in the outreach and participation in the ritual. Leaders brought sacred text and we wove it through the liturgy below. Clinicians were available for anyone looking for immediate support during the service.

A note on language:

“Victims and survivors.” This phrase is used rather than just naming the experiences of survivors, or just of victims, as we may identify in many varied ways, seeking empowerment through titles of victim, or of survivor. The language we use to describe victims and survivors can bind their experiences to standard stories that might not include their particular trauma and might then add another burden.

A note on space:

Feel free to leave at any time and find spaces that feel good. In many religious services it can feel uncomfortable to get up in the middle, but because of the content, it is 100% alright to do so. Take good care of yourself.

A note on music:

This service includes niggunim, wordless melodies intended to be sung along with. As you pick up on the tune, please join in.

*  *  *  

Yom Kippur Yizkor Service for Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault

I. Opening

[Hashkivenu niggun]

Leader: “Nothing is more whole than a broken heart,” teaches Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. On this holiest day of Yom Kippur, when we account for our broken places, our bent places, our cold dark places, our places to grow into and out of, we remember. We remember the moments of pain, of harm, of out of body, of shock, of nothingness. We remember pain we have caused. We remember the lives we used to have, we remember lives lost to violence, to sexual assault, and we remember, we remember, we remember the lives that have been forever changed.

מִין הֲמֵצַּר קָרָאתִי יָהּ

Min ha-metzar ka-ara-ti Ya
From the Narrow place I called upon the Lord[1]

  עֲנָנִי בְמֶרְחַב יָהּ

Ah-na-ni v-merkhav Ya

who answered me with the Divine Expanse

We bear responsibility as a community. We hold ourselves accountable to injustice. We have many questions, and we wait for the answers. We rage, we destroy, we return. We kindle a fire that cannot be put out.

In silence, leader invites the collected group to light a candle located on the bimah/side of the room/center of the circle.

Silence, niggun, ending with the Hebrew:

הַשְׁכִּיבֵנוּ ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ לְשָׁלוֹם וְהַעְמִידֵנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ לְחַיִּים 

Hash-ki-vey-nu Adonay Eloheynu l’shalom, veh-ha-amidey-nu malkeynu l’khayyim.

Help us to lie down, Dear One, our God, in peace, and let us rise again, our sovereign, to life.

II. We pray for the healing of survivors and victims.

  יִזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת נִשְׁמַת 

Yizkor Elohim et nishmat

Let God remember the soul of…

Oh Merciful, Oh Truth-knower, Truth-teller, Story-Keeping One. We come to you today on this Yom Kippur, this day when the gates of Heaven are open for one more day, when the Book of Life is not yet sealed. Bring fullness to our days. Hold us in shelter of your peace. Bring justice to our lives. Gird our hearts with strength, and surround our lives with love. Send your holy solidarity into our lives.

Oh Listening One, Healing One, Stable One, hold me as I let go of the pain that is no longer mine to bear. Remember me and hold close my story. Oh Powerful, Oh Ocean-Raging, Rapids Turning, Water Flowing One. Know I am aghast. Know it is too much. Know I am enraged. Know I many turn away from You, wondering why You have hidden Your face from me. Nurturing One, give me strength and time and softness to nurture myself. Healing One, bring me healing and let me heal myself.

The poem “Something We Don’t Talk About, Part II,” by Sarah Kay, was read here. 

אֱלֹהַי נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא

Elohay neshamah shenatata bi tehorah hi.

My God, the soul you gave me is pure.

III. We seek forgiveness and transformation as a community, accountable.

Emma Sulkowicz is a senior at Columbia, who since the start of the term has been carrying a college dorm mattress, much like the one she was assaulted on, around campus. The performance will continue until the man who assaulted her is expelled from her school. Until justice is served. And in an unexpected addition to her performance, called “Carry That Weight,” her classmates, strangers at her school, have physically helped her carry it from place to place. Today we pledge to carry that weight, to stand with survivors in our community.

The Al Het is repeated 10 times over the course of Yom Kippur. It is a communal accounting for our sins, for our sins as individuals, and our sins as a community that have allowed for violence to take place. Touching on the responsibilities of bystanders, of partners and families of those who have experienced assault, of those who have perpetrated assault, and of the communal culture we are all responsible for that makes sexual violence possible, this traditional format considers the way in which we all are responsible for violence, and healing, caused by sexual assault. We turn inward, and seek forgiveness. We look to each other, and seek growth.

Traditionally for each recitation of a line, those praying tap their fist firmly to the left side of their chest, above their heart. In this Yizkor service, we seek to remember, heal, honor, and build up bodies that have been under attack. For this Al
Het, treat your body however it wants to feel. Beat your heart, flex and roll your shoulders and limbs, inhabit your body, float outside of it. We read this Al Het responsively.

This section of the service exists for anyone who is ready to take in on today. Many of us hold many different identities, as ally, survivor, friend. We remember that many of those who commit harm have themselves been hurt. This next section speaks to one part of us. For those of us here who need to hear our fellows’ commitment to us, listen to the people around you who say these words. Today you might not be ready to hold that space. I invite those who are ready to make that commitment today and say these words to do so.

For the sin which we have committed before You by hearing but not listening

And for the sin which we have committed before You by assuming the rest of the story

For the sin which we have committed before You denying the stories of survivors

And for the sin which we have committed before You silencing victims

For the sin which we have committed before You with violent words and wicked tongues

And the sin which we have committed before You through our obliviousness

For the sin which we have committed before You through our shielded eyes

And for the sin which we have committed before You by insincere word

For all these, God of Pardon, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.


For the sin which we have committed before You with manipulation and coercion, grey areas and assumed consent

And for the sin which we have committed before You through pushing, taking, hurting

For the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating your sacred vessels

And for the sin which we have committed before You through eschewing justice

For the sin which we have committed before You by sowing salt into the fields

And for the sin which we have committed before You continuing patterns of abuse

For the sin which we have committed before You in alleys, in bedrooms, at parties, in dorm rooms, in basements, before all of Creation

And for the sin which we have committed before You by turning aside while Your angels cried out

For all these, God of Truth, we seek forgiveness, pardon, and we we seek atonement.


וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֵּר לָנוּ

Ve’al kulam Elohay selikhot selakh lanu, me-khal lanu, caper lanu.

מִשֶׁבֶּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ שָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל לֵאָה בִּיְּלָה וְזִלְפָּה

Misheberakh avoteynu Avraham Yitzkhak v’Yaakov, v’Imoteynu Sarah, Rivkah, Rakhel, Leah, Bilhah v’Zilpah

May the one who blessed our ancestors, or ancients, our prophets, find kindness and blessing on this Yom Kippur Day.

Let God hold close the soul of this holy community, who comes to you for strength, healing, mercy. Heal our bodies, our souls, our worried brows, and our traveling feet. Let us come to rest in the shelter of peace and stillness. Let justice, true justice that takes apart, transforms, and welds back together, come in our time. May we find ourselves amongst community that lifts us up, that holds us close, that keeps us warm. May we be able to take the space we need, the space we deserve. May we strive toward a רפואה שלמה (refuah shlemah), a full healing. Source of All, let us remember each other as we were in the before, as we journey in the now. Remember our stories, and make us whole once more. God, cause us to remember, God, make sure we do not forget. May we go from strength to strength, ever increasing, ever growing.

IV. We remember the parts of ourselves we have lost. We mourn those we have lost.

The traditional Yizkor service concludes with the Mourner’s Kaddish. We remember the loss of our sisters, our brothers, our best friends and our high school classmates. And, we remember, and we mourn the loss of our innocence, our optimism, our naivete.

Rabbi Isaac Luria teaches that each time the Kaddish prayer is recited, the soul of the one remembered is raised ever higher in Heaven. Today we recite this Kaddish for those that have been taken from us because of assault and violence. Today we say Kaddish for the parts our ourselves that have been taken away from us. As we say this prayer, we raise the souls and hearts of this holy community ever higher.

Mourner’s Kaddish

by Elliot bat Tzedek

So often am I lost,

yet through the pall, yet through the tarnish, show me the way back,

through my betrayals, my dismay, my heart’s leak, my mind’s sway,

eyes’ broken glow, groan of the soul—which convey all that isn’t real,

for every soul to These Hands careen. And let us say, Amen.

Say you will show me the way back, my Rock, my Alarm. Lead the way,

Oh my Yah

And yet in shock and yet in shame and yet in awe and yet to roam

and yet to stay and yet right here and yet away and yet —“Halleluyah!”

my heartbeat speaks, for You live in all this murk and too in the clear and

too in our wreckage. You are the mirror of our souls, let us say: Amen

Life may harm me, rob me, ream me raw, try me, even slay me

Over all You will prevail. And let us say: Amen

Say You shall loan me a tomorrow, Say You shall loan another day to all

who are called Yisrael and all called Yishmael and all called We and They,

and let us say, Amen

Mourner’s Kaddish



יִתְגַדַּל וְיִתְקַדַּשׁ שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא בְּעָלְמָא דִי בְרִא כִרְעוּתֵהּ וְיַמְלִיךְ
מַלְכוּתֵהּ בְּחַיֵּיכוֹן וּבְיוֹמֵיכוֹן וּבחַיֵּי דְכָל בֵּית יִשׂרָאֵל
בַּעַגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב יְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהֵא שְׁמֵהּ רַבָּא מְבָרַךְ לְעָלַם וּלְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּא.
יִתְבָּרַךְ וְיִשְׁתַּבַּח וְיִתְפָּאַר וְיִתְרוֹמַם וְיִתְנַשֵׂא וְיִתְהַדַּר וְיִתְעַלֶּה
וְיִתְהַלַּל שְׁמֵהּ דְּקֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא לְעֵלָּא לְעֵלָּא מִן כָּל בִּרְכָתָא וְשִׁירָתָא תֻּשְׁבְּחָתָא וְנֶחֶמָתָא דַּאֲמִירָן בְּעָלְמָא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן
יְהֵא שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא מִן שְׁמַיָּא וְחַיִּים עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאִמְרוּ אמֵן
עוֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו הוּא יַעֲשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mey raba b’alma di-v’ra khirutey, v’yamlikh malkhutey b’khayeykhon uvyomeykhon uvkhayey d’khol beyt yisrael, ba’agala uvizman kariv, v’im’ru: “amen.”

All: Y’hey sh’mey raba m’varakh l’alam ul’almey almaya.

Yitbarakh v’yishtabakh, v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam v’yitnaseh, v’yithadar v’yit’aleh v’yit’halal sh’mey d’kud’sha, b’rikh hu, l’eila min-kol-birkhata v’shirata, tushb’khata v’nekhemata da’amiran b’alma, v’im’ru: “amen.”

Y’hey shlama raba min-sh’maya v’khayim aleynu v’al-kol-yisrael, v’im’ru: “amen.”

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol-yisrael, v’imru: “amen.”

[Hashkivenu niggun]

V. Close

Leader: We end our Yizkor service, blessing each other. To those here needing healing of body, of spirit, we say:


  בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם הַמְּקַדֵּשֹׁ אֶת חַיֵּינוּ בְּקָדוֹשׁ 

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Ruakh haolam, ha-mekadesh et khayyenu b’kadosh.

All: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Source of the Universe, who renews our lives with holiness.

To all of us, we say:



בְּרוּכָה בָּרוּךְ אַתְּ אַתָּה בְּבֹאֵךְ בְּבֹאֶךָ וּבְרוּכָה וּבָרוּךְ אַתְּ אַתָּה בְּצֵאתֶךָ בְּצֵאתֵךְ 

B’rukha/ Barukh at/ah b’vo-eh-ch/cha, ooh’v’rukha /ooh’varuch at/ah b’tze-teh-cha/ch.

All: Blessed are you in your coming and blessed are you in your going.



חֲזַק וְאַמֵּץ כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ 

Khazak v’amatz, ki eh’yeh imkha.

Be strong and courageous because I, the Ever-Present One, will be with you. (Joshua 1:9)

[Shofar blast]

Be good to yourselves. Go in strength.

[1] Psalm 118.

[2] Translation by Rabbi Shefa Gold.

[3] Journey from Darkness into Light , Rabbi JB Sacks-Rosen.


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