Jewish community observes Yom Kippur tonight

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The most austere holiday of the Jewish year begins today and will culminate Saturday evening with a blast from a ram’s horn.

Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, marks the end of a 10-day period of reflection and repentance beginning after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, based on the lunar calendar.

The holiday traditionally is observed with a daylong fast, beginning just before sunset Friday and lasting until sundown the next day.

Yom Kippur is often biblically correlated to the day of Moses’ final descent from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments.

Rabbi Joseph Schonberger of Temple El-Emeth in Liberty said the 25-hour fast emphasizes the intended purpose of the holiday.

“The fast allows us to focus on making Yom Kippur a spiritual day,” he said. “It’s a full fast. No food or drink is allowed, unless someone physically can’t do the fast healthily. It helps us build discipline in our lives.”

Observance of Yom Kippur begins and ends with services at Jewish temples – with a period for sleep in between the services – and includes spiritual lessons, prayer, a prepared meal to break the fast and the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn used in Jewish ceremonies.

At the Jewish Community Center in Liberty, Gon Erez, an Israeli emissary working at the center, showed off a shofar to a class of students at Akiva Academy ahead of the holiday.

Today, he’ll lead a class of preschoolers in a Yom Kippur service, complete with the singing of shabat and holiday songs. The students also will be given apples and honey, a traditional meal associated with the high holidays.

Philanthropy also plays a role in the celebration of Yom Kippur. Erez said the center was conducting a food drive for the duration of the high holidays. Rabbi Schonberger said good causes serve an important aspect of the holiday’s observance.

“We start with philanthropy,” he said. “We identify causes that are important to us and make appeals for support. This year, much of our focus will be on helping the victims of the recent hurricanes and natural disasters.”

Though Yom Kippur is a solemn celebration that emphasizes mindful reflection, atonement and repentance, it also is part of a larger cycle of celebrations in the Jewish calendar.

“Every celebration requires preparation. Some people plan for a year or more to plan a wedding that will last a night,” Rabbi Schonberger said. “Yom Kippur is no different. We prepare for it for 40 days, and when it finishes, we begin our preparation for Sukkot.”

Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or the Fest of the Tabernacle, occurs four days after Yom Kippur.

Preparation is an important virtue in Judaism; as both Shabat (Sabbath) and many of the Jewish holidays, including Yom Kippur, call for a cessation from any kind of work, preparing for the fast from food, drink and action is necessary.

A period of 40 days before the high holidays and Sukkot is a spiritual mirror to the agricultural cycles central to most humans’ lives since the beginning of civilization.

“We sow and we reap, which are the high holidays, and we harvest and feast, which is Sukkot,” Rabbi Schonberger said.

Yom Kippur observances will take place at Jewish temples throughout the world.

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