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Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, concluded the Jewish days of Awe and Reverence. It is the day when the Book of Life, which was opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is closed. The time leading up to Yom Kippur is a time of introspection and repentance. “The urgency to repent resonates through the High Holy Days liturgy,” said Rabbi Edward Maline, of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island (JCMI).
“At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the shofar (ram’s horn) is sounded one last time and the Book of Life is sealed and the new year is launched. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world. Yom Kippur is more introspective. It is a day when we deal with the individual spirit and issues of conscious. Yom Kippur is sober; it deals with the painstakingly difficult task of making changes in ourselves. We ask for forgiveness for wrongs, so as to be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of joy, health, peace and prosperity.”
JCMI’s Cantorial Soloist Hari Jacobsen, said, “Our responsibilities and their fruits are awesome.”
In biblical times, the festivals of Sukkot (Festival of Booths), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) were the “highest” of days. As the Jews became more urbanized they yearned for the repentance, change, forgiveness, renewal, regeneration and reordering of priorities that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur represent. Yom Kippur is a fast day, followed by a dinner of light food – dairy, salads and fruit, explained Maline.
Observant Jews fast from sundown the night before until sundown on the day of Yom Kippur. “Fasting helps us to focus our minds on the awesome task of improving ourselves and asking for God’s forgiveness of our past transgressions,” said JCMI member Roger Blau.
The church lady asked several members of JCMI how they observed Yom Kippur as a child and what its significance is to them today.
Hanita Kern emigrated to American in 1959 and remembers Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv. She could feel the holiday in the air. It was very quiet. No cars or buses ran from sundown to the next day’s sundown. Radios were off and there was no TV yet. All stores, restaurants and businesses were closed. A car would drive down the main streets and a man would announce the holiday’s arrival by blowing a ram’s horn. Everyone would get ready early the day before to prepare a special meal of challah, gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, chicken and potatoes, fruit, cake and coffee.
Men walked to the synagogue wearing tennis shoes, as leather soles were not worn on Yom Kippur, carrying their tallits (prayer shawls). Many wore a white kittel, a robe they received when they married. They wore them during the High Holy Days, as they believed that they would stand before God, who judges them.
It was a day of fasting; no food or drink was taken. Children could eat till the age of Bar Mitzvah for boys and 12 years for girls. Most adults would go to Synagogue for “Kol Nidre,” which was chanted on the eve of Yom Kippur. People who did not belong to a synagogue would buy seats in the synagogue in advance and many movie houses would have services for people who did not belong to a temple. Men and boys sat in front and the women sat in the back with the girls, and in-between was a curtain called a mechitzah. The adults spent most of the day in the synagogue. They would come home to rest at about two or three in the afternoon and then go back for Ne’ilah, the closing services. The children would prepare some dairy food to have on the table. Then, they would walk to synagogue to pick up their parents. They carried candy in their pockets to give the parents for the walk home.
It is a very pious and solemn holy day, as it is the day when we ask forgiveness from our fellow man for any wrong doings we did, and when we believe that our fate for the year is being decided, written and sealed by God,”
Hanita Kern, JCMI member
“It is a very pious and solemn holy day, as it is the day when we ask forgiveness from our fellow man for any wrong doings we did, and when we believe that our fate for the year is being decided, written and sealed by God,” said Kern.
“Now that I am older I, understand the meaning of the words in our prayer book, and they have more meaning to me,” said Kern. “I read them in Hebrew. It is on Yom Kippur that God sits in judgment over us and we hope to be inscribed and sealed in the book of Life and Health. We ask forgiveness for any wrongdoings we did to our fellow men and God and we ask and pray that He should not forsake us when we get old.”
JCMI member Arnold Baron grew up in an orthodox Jewish home in New England. He remembers Yom Kippur as a very solemn, very long and very powerful service. The entire day and evening was spent in the synagogue. “A lot of things were gained spiritually,” said Baron. When he married in the 1960s, he attended a conservative synagogue. His sons were Bar Mitzvahed in a conservative synagogue. However, 21 years ago, he began to attend a reformed synagogue, as he could not find a conservative synagogue in South Carolina at the time. Conservative is considered the middle ground between Orthodox and Reformed. At JCMI, our reformed service is brief. Today, as it was when he was a youth, the memorial portion, where family and friends are remembered, is very important to him.
Delores Siegel grew up in the Midwest. Even as a child she knew that the High Holy Days were a time you asked for forgiveness. It was the right thing to do. Talking to God was like talking to someone above her parents. “When the day was done, you felt you can start over again,” said Siegel. Today, Yom Kippur means the same to her as it did as a child. “It’s the time to atone for my sins. When it comes down to it, it’s your pact with God. We are down to talking to your maker. Forgive me for what I’ve done. Inscribe the ones I love in the Book of Life.”
Blau had an interesting note on Jewish repentance, “Our Jewish liturgy and teachings make particular reference to the fact that God will entertain forgiveness of our transgressions if and only after we have made a good faith effort to correct any wrong we may have committed against our fellow man. God is willing to unconditionally forgive our sins against Him, but sins against our fellow man can only be forgiven if we first make amends or restitution for wrongs we have committed against other human beings.”
He continued, “This, I think, is a beautiful and practical moral teaching of our ancient faith. It represents the kind of ethical standards that enabled Judeo-Christian theology to provide the bedrock mindset for modern Western civilization.”
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Kathleen Tuttle, a Marco Island resident since 1987, has written articles for various nonprofits for more than 25 years. She is a community volunteer, former science teacher and microbiologist.