Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is known as the holiest day of the Jewish year. Leading up to and on that day, Jews traditionally ask for forgiveness for our wrongdoings from God and from our fellow human beings. 

TAKE THE QUIZ: How much do you really know about Yom Kippur and the High Holidays? 

Jews strive to transcend our physical bodies on Yom Kippur so that we can focus on our souls. Therefore, traditionally, Jews fast on Yom Kippur, refraining from both food and drink for the entire 25 hours of the holiday. It is also traditional to refrain from other earthly pleasures, such as bathing and wearing leather shoes, something seen as a luxury in ancient times. Many Jews choose to wear white, symbolizing purity and renewal as we repent for our past sins. 

Yom Kippur begins with the hauntingly beautiful Kol Nidrei service. Flanked by two witnesses holding Torahs to simulate a beit din, a Jewish court, the prayer leader recites a centuries-old Aramaic formula releasing us from any vows that we may fail to fulfill in the upcoming year.

While Yom Kippur is a day for private introspection, it is also a day of powerful communal connection. The confessional statements that Jews recite throughout the day are worded in the plural - we seek forgiveness for the sin WE committed. Uniting in this way with our fellow Jews illustrates that together, we can overcome the obstacles in our path. By facing our wrongdoing as a collective, we elevate the entire Jewish community. Yom Kippur is certainly a solemn day, but it is not a sad day. We are not mourning our past missteps so much as facing up to them, and truly repenting for them so that we can unburden ourselves and wipe our slate clean for a new year. Some Jewish communities even tap into this sense of hope and renewal by singing and dancing together at certain points in the service.

Yom Kippur ends on a high. We have faith that our sins have been forgiven. The shofar is blown and the congregation declares “L'shana Haba'ah B’Yerushalayim,” Next Year in Jerusalem! Even on this most introspective day of the Jewish year, we refocus our vision outward, as a people, by connecting to our homeland and our holy city. We at AJC wish all of you a “Gmar Hatima Tova” – May we all be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of goodness. 

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