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Israel: Prayers and Practices for Day of Atonement

This year, Yom Kippur was celebrated by Jews around the world on September 28th. As the holiest day of the Jewish calendar approached, Israeli bloggers took to the internet to share their thoughts, feelings, and hopes for the new year.

Non-Jewish readers will note that Rosh HaShana is the Jewish New Year, while Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement: a fast day 10 days after Rosh HaShana.

Rock of the Galilee writes about the special time of year between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.

This has been a crazy busy week between rosh hashana and yom kippur, I did two selichos [forgivness] tours, one in Tsfat with the boys… and then to Jerusalem the next evening with the girls. We also built our sukkah, which we got from our friends…

Today started at 4:30AM. That's not as early as it sounds because we changed our clocks last night, so it only felt like 5:30AM… Last night I had decided that I was going to go down to the nachal (stream) for an early dip in the mikvah (ritual bath).

Religious Jews, both men and women, traditionally purify themselves in the mikveh prior to the holy days.

At the Ingathered blog, Leah writes that there are two motivations for asking for forgiveness from G-D: fear of retribution and love of the divine. She explains that:

Though both types of teshuva [asking for forgiveness] are accepted, the first voids the sin and clears the scoreboard, while the second places the repentant at an advantage by turning his sins into virtues.

Over at Aliyah! Step by Step, Yael muses over the more practical aspects of preparing for the holiday:

Every year I am taken by surprised at this stockpiling mentality. It is like people are getting ready to descend into bunkers for the next 6 weeks or something rather than the stores simply being closed for 24 hours. The woman ahead of me kept sending her reluctant kids off to collect additional items, “Dudi, go back and get 4 more yogurts.”

On Yom Kippur, A Soldier’s Mother asks readers to remember the soldiers who protect the nation, referencing—as many Israeli bloggers did—the renewed threat of a nuclear Iran, following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Our sons and daughters guard our borders, protected by a God who has promised us this land again and again. A God who has seen us brought home after more than 2,000 years to a land that was always ours, and always will be. The greatness of that covenant makes a mockery of Ahmadinejad and Iran. They are nothing, their missiles a joke compared to the Might of Israel.

(Click here for the full text of Ahmadinejad’s address to the United Nations on September 24th, 2009.)

At South Jerusalem, Gershom Gorenberg contemplates the ways in which Jewish ritual is shaped based on its relationships with the Diaspora communities from whence they were influences.

In subtle, indirect ways, it seems, our sense of divine mercy is shaped in part by the amount of human warmth we’ve met.

He writes that on a trip to Bangkok during Yom Kippur, he and his wife were able to visit a synagogue of Mizrachi Jews—Jews who come from Arab communities in the Middle East—and was taken aback at the different way in which they prayed, compared to Jews from European communities. He remembers:

It was our first time spending that long day of prayer and fasting with Mizrahi Jews. We were used to the mournful melodies of Ashkenazim on the edge of bursting into tears. In Bangkok, standing before heavily judgment, the Jews rocked. “Hatanu lefanekha, rahem aleinu” – “We have sinned before you, have mercy on us,” they belted out, as if no thought could be happier.

Jameel at the Muqata enacts the ritual of asking for forgiveness by doing so of his blog readers:

I would like to ask forgiveness:
– if I didn't answer your email
– if I forgot to link to your blog/add you to my blogroll
– if I neglected to write a post about something requested.
– if I wrote anything factually incorrect on the blog over this past year.

I have tried extremely hard to only post factual updates, complete with sources and hyperlinks and have tried to correct any story or post that I found to be inaccurate.

At eJewishPhilanthropy, Gail Hyman shares a related list (excerpted):

I wonder how many of these transgressions of communications we all share.
– Failure to get all the facts right.
– Failure to actively listen as an essential part of communicating.
– Failure to be open to hearing others’ opinions and points of view.
– Failure to recognize that there are many – not one – valid perspectives on a subject.
– Failure to speak out on matters that require your voice.
– Failure to communicate more often with those who need and deserve your attention.

Returning to the Muqata, Jameel also shares an interesting way that his community is commemorating Yom Kippur:

Our settlement is participating yet again in the “Biyachad” (Together) community prayer service, in which secular and religious Jews come together in prayer on Yom Kippur. It takes place in a local school, not in an official synagogue — yet in neutral ground so that no one feels “out of place.”

A community praying together, with ALL sectors represented is truly special. On this day of solemn holiness, the Jewish people put aside their difference, politics, and quibbles — and beseech G-d's forgiveness.

Over at Jerusalem Diaries and Jewlicious, bloggers Judy Lash Balint and Rabbi Yonah write about the ritual practice of kapparot. Kapparot entails a chicken (or other symbolic object) being swung around the head three times. Practitioners believe that the sin is transferred to the object and then, in the process of swinging, released from both the person and the object.

In her post, “Approaching the Big Day,” Lash Balint takes us through the steps of preparing for the holy days, starting with kapparot:

In a parking lot near Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, dozens of live chickens are whirled above the heads of men, women and children while a pronouncement is made declaring: “This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement: This chicken will meet its fate while I will proceed to a good, long life of peace.” …The chickens are then donated to the needy or redeemed with money that goes to the poor.

She continues:

In the streets later in the day, men hurry along with towels to the nearest mikveh (ritual bath). Many have already started building their sukkot (booths) in readiness for Sukkot, the one-week festival that starts the week after Yom Kippur. Sukkot structures of all kinds have sprung up on balconies, street corners and in front of cafes. The final decorations and theschach covering will be added right after the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

Lash Balint adds that newspapers predict that an estimated 71% of Israel Jews between 18 and 35 years old will fast this year on Yom Kippur.

At Jewlicious, Rabbi Yonah asks readers what object they are using for kapparot this year. Here were his results:

– Money (40%)
– Chicken (25%)
– Not doing Kaparos (25%)
– Vegetable (10%)
– Fish (0%)

Chaviva of Kvetching Editor reflects about her search for G-D among the prayers and practice. In a post entitled, “When I Call, Will You Answer?” she recalls her feelings about religion as she was struggling for answers at this time last year.

The one thing I always detested about “religion” was that it lacked rhyme or reason. Things were done because “that's just what we do.” You go to church on Sunday because that's what a good Christian does. You daven [pray] three times a day, because that's what a good Jew does…

The WHY gets lost in translation. That's also what drew me so much to Judaism…. It is enlightening and brilliant the amount of discussion and argument that goes into Jewish thought.

On a far more mundane note, Dion Nissenbaum of Checkpoint Jerusalem provides readers with a rabbinic rundown of whether or not Jews should wear Crocs on Yom Kippur. After reviewing the various opinions, the conclusion seems to be:

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi has determined that the ugly plastic clog doesn't provide the appropriate level of suffering for the Jewish holy day of atonement.

Jews are forbidden from wearing leather on this day, making Crocs, which are constructed of plastic, a popular alternative.

Steve of Israel Seen leaves us with a blessing of his own:

Bless all of you Jews and Non Jews a like in the celebration of life knowing full well that there are people all over the world that still suffer from oppression, poverty and lack of opportunity. Until all of us are free there will always be a piece of us that is a bit torn in the pain of the suffering.

Finally, Jewish blogger Ima On (and Off) the Bima, writing in an entry entitled, “I Hope You Don’t Have an Easy Fast,” leaves us with this fervent wish:

I don't want my fast to be easy.I want my fast to be purposeful. I want my fast to be meaningful. I want my fast to remind me that people are starving in the world. I want my fast to remind me that my spiritual self has work to do. I want to feel the light-headedness that comes at the end of the day when I've been on my feet for almost 12 hours leading services and I want that moment to lift me up and help me feel a true connection to God.

So this year I'm not wishing anyone an easy fast. May your fast be full of all that you need it to be. May your fast be powerful and purposeful and meaningful.

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