Swabbing on Yom Kippur: What is a Life Worth Living?

Last Yom Kippur, 35 congregations partnered with the RAC and Gift of Life to run bone marrow registration drives. We swabbed over 3,000 people, and already, two matches have been found! We are in the midst of recruiting congregations for our Yom Kippur Gift of Life drives this year, and I’m quickly learning that the project’s best advocates are the clergy, temple staff and volunteers who worked so hard to make last year such a success.

Interested in joining us this year? Sign up here for more information, or register for one of our two upcoming informational webinars:

You’ll hear from RAC and Gift of Life staff; we’ll go over everything you need to know, and YK alum will be available to answer all your questions and concerns about organizing a drive on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Simonds from University Synagogue in Los Angeles below shares his thoughts on the power that the simple act of swabbing your cheek has to radically transform your congregation’s Yom Kippur experience.

Enjoy Rabbi Simonds’ beautiful words, and let’s be in touch.

 What is a Life Worth Living?

Through the High Holy Days we ask that God write us in the book of life.  And as we conclude Yom Kippur we transition from asking God to write us in the book of life to asking God to seal us in the book of life.  As we sit in services, the grumbling of our bellies mixed with celestial sounds of the day we turn inward and reflect on our own lives.  What is a life worth writing?  What is a life worth sealing?  We cannot simply ask God to write and seal us in the book of life; we must commit to God a life worth living, a life worth writing and a life worth sealing. Year in and year out I find myself reflecting on the actions we will take when we exit the Synagogue.  The actions we will commit when the final shofar blast is heard and the break-fast meal is consumed.  Will we guide ourselves and others to a life worth living or will we go through the motions of another year and find ourselves in the same place one year later?  No better, no worse, just the status quo?

This past Yom Kippur those feelings of despair over the human condition were absent.  Those feelings of, “are we going through the motions?” were silenced by the overwhelming actions of others.  Thanks to the incredible partnership of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Gift of Life Foundation our Yom Kippur air was filled with hope and possibility.  After our morning service, our Synagogue was filled with excitement.  Congregants did not wander in and out of discussion groups, congregants did not race home, congregants did not sit and sleep; rather, congregants volunteered their time and their cheeks to save a life.  People stood in line, waiting to have their cheek’s swabbed, hoping, just hoping, that this year they could help God seal someone’s name in the book of life.

As congregants volunteered to process swab kits, they spoke with fellow congregants who were waiting to be swabbed. They shared stories and found holy connections.  One congregant volunteered because she was a cancer survivor, another volunteered because she lost a parent to cancer.  One volunteered because his cousin was sick, another stepped up because he lost a friend.

We sit in Synagogue wrapped in prayer, sitting side-by-side with strangers. We know their names and profession yet we don’t know the life that they are seeking to seal. This Yom Kippur we prayed not only for our own lives, but for the lives of those we have never met.  We prayed for the lives of those who suffer from illness and prayed to seal us for good in the book of life so that we could be the match.

We hope that our prayers and our actions next Yom Kippur will match our congregants with more of God’s children who seek a life that will be sealed for good.


Rabbi Simonds is a spiritual leader at University Synagogue in Los Angeles. He is a member of the ARZA national board, a member of the Commission on Social Action, a member of the CCAR Justice, Peace and Civil Liberties Committee and a founding member of the Israel Policy Forum’s Rabbinic Network.

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Veronica Grant

About Veronica Grant

Veronica Grant is the Program Coordinator for the URJ partner, the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, and formally Nothing But Nets. She is from Asheville, NC and graduated from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


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    […] question I hear often is “Why Yom Kippur?” In case you missed this post, be sure to check out Rabbi Simonds’ beautiful words on how swabbing on Yom Kippur gave his congreg…. This is definitely an opportunity you won’t want to miss out […]

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