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Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement
10 days after Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Jews who almost never come to the synagogue, are there. We fast from sundown till the following sunset and we repent and reflect.
When we refrain from eating and drinking we do not give in to our most basic instincts and exercise control over our bodies – at least for that day.
It is not uncommon either, that people don’t wear leather shoes (a sin of luxury in old times), which is why you can actually see Jews wear white sneakers or Crocks in the synagogue that day. Some are dressed in white (symbolizing personal purity), while others will refrain from washing and sexual relations.
Yom Kippur is the day, where God seals us “in The Book of Life or Death ” for the coming year, the Torah says. It marks the closing of a week, where Jews are supposed to have settled any wrongdoing to other people, asked for forgiveness, and where God is deciding what fate we should have.
Does it sound too strange? Perhaps. But in an everyday drill, it is actually a privilege to focus on your life, on how you could deal differently with things and how you can “become a better person” (if that’s your goal).
The music, the songs and the prayers are very, very beautiful. Even if you are not religious, you might at least enjoy that part.
What surprises me every year at Yom Kippur is how intense the day is – and how adjusted I have become not to eat and drink (elder, sick and children should not fast – some choose to sip a cup of tea with sugar in the morning, and some drink a little water as well).
The other thing that gives the day a certain weight is being a part of a community where we all walk the same path together, each of us with different thoughts and reflections.
That, plus the thoughtfulness it gives us to hear the same readings, prayers and songs as last year – however each year with a new angle, because of life’s constant changes.
One last thing. Don’t be surprised if you spot people in the synagogue crying – they might mourn the loss of loved ones and the names of the diseased will be read out loud. Yom Kippur is also a day where we mourn.