Yom Kippur: When your birthday falls on the holiest Jewish fast day

In general, feelings toward having a birthday on Yom Kippur range from relative indifference to downright disdain.

 ‘THE SPECIAL feeling of ‘It’s my birthday’ is not the same when it’s on Yom Kippur.’  (photo credit: FLASH90)
‘THE SPECIAL feeling of ‘It’s my birthday’ is not the same when it’s on Yom Kippur.’
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Babies have a one in 365 chance of being born on any given date, with the exception of February 29, when the odds go down to 1 in 1,461.

Some birthdays are more prevalent than others – the 10 most common birthdays in the United States all happen to fall in mid-September, a suspicious nine months after New Year’s Eve, give or take a few days.

Among all of the possible days that a baby can be born, there are some that make for better birthdays than others – to what degree a child has won or lost the birthday lottery may depend on factors like the culture and faith they are born into.

I myself grew up in a household where both Christmas and Hanukkah were celebrated in a relatively secular manner, but, having been born in the middle of December, am no stranger to the drawbacks of having a birthday in the midst of the American holiday season.

December babies often receive 1-for-2 “combination gifts” intended for both our birthdays and this or that holiday, and those around us tend to be too exhausted and preoccupied with all of the ongoing seasonal events to devote the same time and effort that siblings and peers born during other months receive by comparison.

  (credit: BOOMF) (credit: BOOMF)

When your birthday falls on Yom Kippur

All of that said, I’ve got no room to complain. After speaking with a number of people born on both 10 Tishrei as well as Gregorian dates that have fallen on Yom Kippur, I’m forced to conclude I’ve actually got it pretty good in the birthday department. Though there are some who have found ways to take the date of their birthday in stride, in general, feelings toward having a birthday on Yom Kippur range from relative indifference to downright disdain.

“It sucks,” explains Tamar*, whose September 28 birthday has fallen on the holiday several times throughout her life. “Yom Kippur is a day when everyone is quite focused on themselves. Everyone is at home fasting, and even if you can meet with friends afterward, it’s not an appropriate day for any kind of real celebration.”

The struggle seems to be particularly acute during childhood, when birthdays tend to bear more significance than they do later in life. Growing up with a birthday that gets lost in the chaos of a month filled with joyous holidays is a gift compared to one that falls on a day whose entire purpose is to atone and repent. Tamar said she “felt like she missed out” in years where her birthday has fallen on Yom Kippur.

Shira’s Gregorian birthday is at the beginning of October, and she shares a similar sentiment. “The special feeling of ‘It’s my birthday’ is not the same when it’s on Yom Kippur.”

“The special feeling of ‘It’s my birthday’ is not the same when it’s on Yom Kippur.”

Shira

Still, there are some who have found ways to observe the holiday and still view their birthday in a positive light. Some make an annual practice of going out for dinner with family or breaking the fast with a few bites of cake. 

Sam is part of a Chabad community in New York and shared that many people he knows believe that, “On someone’s Jewish birthday, they have an extra ‘strength’ to be able to give others blessings.” He elaborated that he “gets called upon by friends and community members through the whole of Yom Kippur to bless them. It’s a particularly good day to bless people that their prayers should be heard and accepted, and that they should be sealed in the Sefer Haim [Book of Life] for a good year.”

Idan now lives a mostly secular lifestyle, though having grown up in a religious home still maintains a degree of appreciation for the Hebrew calendar and his 10 Tishrei birthday. 

“The Hebrew calendar has much more meaning,” he shared. “As a child, I saw Yom Kippur as not such a great day, but now I see it as a happy day. It’s a day of prayer and wishing for good things in the year to come. In this sense, it can be a good thing to have a birthday on Yom Kippur. You just don’t celebrate with food. When I was a kid, we’d celebrate my birthday on Sukkot. We weren’t at school so everyone would be able to come and eat together in the sukkah.”

Whether to maintain religious observance or to spare her child from future inconvenience, some mothers even attempt to delay labor until the holiday is over, provided there is no medical risk in doing so. Some things, however, are out of our control, and when a baby decides to make its entrance into the world is one of them.

When Chava, a religious woman from Herzliya went into labor on the morning of Yom Kippur several years ago, no one in her home felt comfortable operating the family car or even picking up the phone to call an ambulance, so her husband ran next door to a non-religious neighbor for help.

The neighbor ended up driving Chava to the hospital while she was in active labor, recounting that the experience was “very scary, to say the least.” Luckily, the baby waited until they arrived at the hospital to make his official appearance.

While Yom Kippur may not present the same opportunity for celebration as other dates, it does seem that there are at least a few positives to having a birthday on the holiday. Not the least of which being the opportunity to eat cake to break the fast.•

*Names have been changed