At sundown on Friday, Oct. 7, Jews around the world will mark the start of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Congregations across the Lower Eastern Shore will gather for a spiritually powerful experience that, according to Rabbi Arnold Bienstock of Beth Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Salisbury, is as relevant today as it was more than 5,000 years ago.
“For most American Jews, Yom Kippur serves as a connecting point with their identity. It calls them back to their heritage, traditions and community,” he said. “No matter how frequently or infrequently they attend services they still have the strong feeling of ‘coming home.’”
The central themes of Yom Kippur are repentance and atonement. The religion teaches that while Jews must ask God for forgiveness, it is equally important to ask forgiveness from the person or people they may have wronged.
“It’s a time of very deep introspection,” said Rabbi Susan Warshaw of Temple Bat Yam, a reform congregation in Ocean Pines. “We set time aside to think about the year past and look forward to the coming year. To ‘sin’ in Hebrew literally translates to “miss the mark” as with a bow and arrow. We all sin, we all make mistakes. Yom Kippur gives Jews the opportunity to think about those we would like to ask forgiveness from and a reason to do so.”
Yom Kippur is also the closing holiday of the 10 Days of Awe that began last week with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur, Jews “fast” or abstain from eating from sundown to sundown as a way to focus on prayer and repentance. Jewish tradition says that it is during this time that each person’s fate is sealed into the Book of Life for the coming year.
Forgiveness is a central theme of the holiday, and Warshaw said that while asking for forgiveness can be very hard, “granting forgiveness from our hearts is much harder. It really is easier to ask to be forgiven than to forgive someone who has hurt you. What you are doing is changing your attitude about the person asking for forgiveness. Accepting an apology is easy to say but hard to do.”
With people out of work and times difficult, Bienstock said it is very important to become “spiritual activists” – to work hard to improve relationships with family members, friends and those in the community.
“A central teaching of Judaism is ‘tikkun olam’ which means ‘repairing the world.’ Yom Kippur reminds us that we have to assume responsibility for our lives. Even in most difficult circumstances we have to act, to be responsible, to show initiative,” he added.
Both Beth Israel and Bat Yam will hold services on Yom Kippur, as will Temple B’nai Israel in Easton, Maryland, Seaside Congregation in Rehoboth, Del. and the Chabad Lubuvich Center of the Eastern Shore in Ocean City.