What is Yom Kippur?

What is Yom Kippur?

From a historical basis, Yom Kippur is the most important day in the Jewish faith, one that many Jewish people will observe even if they observe no other Jewish holidays. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, falls on the 10th day of Tishrei, ten days after the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which falls in September or October every year. This year Yom Kippur begins at least seven minutes before sundown on Tuesday, October 4, 2022 and ends after a 25-hours. Specifically, in New York City, the lighting of Sabbat candles this year is 6:15pm and Yom Kippur will end at 7:15pm on October 5, 2022.

The first Yom Kippur is said to have taken place at the arrival of Mount Sinai after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, as Mount Sinai is where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

Many Jews believe this is the day that God decides a Jewish person’s fate, if they should live or die in the next year, so Jews take this day to make amends and atone for their sins of the past year. This is also a day of mourning, as a day of remembering those lost in the past year.

How is Yom Kippur Observed?

What is most known is a 25-hour fast, while spending time at a synagogue in prayer asking for forgiveness, but many Jews follow whatever feels right for them on this High Holy Day. For those fasting, they may or may not also refrain from any drink, including water. For those that follow strictly, they may also refrain from sex, washing or bathing, perfumes or anointing oneself, and leather shoes. Many Orthodox Jews and other Jewish people do not use a phone or certain types of technology on this day until the fast is ready to be broken on the following sundown. Many Jewish people do not work on Yom Kippur.

Famously, in 1965, Sandy Koufax while observing Yom Kippur, refused to pitch in Game One of the World Series. Koufax instead attended synagogue in Minneapolis, while Don Drysdale pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After Drysdale gave up seven runs in under three innings, he stated to Walter Alston, manager of the Dodgers, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too.” Ultimately, the Dodgers lost that night to the Minnesota Twins, 8-2, but the LA Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year. Sandy Koufax remains an idol to many American Jews to this day, as many look to him as a source of pride in upholding his beliefs while also being a gifted athlete. Jewish baseball cards are most definitely a thing of joy for Jewish kids and adults alike, as highlighted by the Jewish Baseball Museum!

It is each person’s decision to decide how they want to observe, how much they want to fast, and to what lengths. There is a reformed service in DC, called the New Synagogue Project, that offers community to interfaith and Jewish LGBT+ families and a wider more diverse idea of Judaism. Previously they have offered yoga on Yom Kippur as well as a queer Talmud reading. The famous publication, Hey Alma cites many ways to observe based on varying backgrounds.

Some simple ways to observe are to spend time writing in a journal, writing a poem, painting, going for a walk in nature, praying for yourself or others, or simply taking time to meditate.

What Do You Say to a Jewish Person? Happy Yom Kippur?

Most common is, “Have an easy fast.” However, as many may not be fasting for whatever reason, it’s okay to also say, “May you have a reflective day,” or you may also wish someone “Good Yuntif” in Yiddish or “Yom Tov” in Hebrew, meaning, “Have a good Holy Day.”

So to those observing and those who are not, I wish you a reflective day. I wish you peace. And I wish you many moments of presence and mindfulness.

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