For many Quinnipiac students, Yom Kippur is just a day without classes and a chance to sleep late and procrastinate on work, but for Jewish everywhere it’s one of the most important days of the year.
Yom Kippur literally means “Day of Atonement.” It begins at sundown the night before and lasts until sundown the next day. It is customary to fast for the entire 24-hour period, and many people do not even drink water. Fasting is symbolic of sacrifice, and allows for complete concentration on self-reflection.
Yom Kippur occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The days in between are known as the “Days of Awe,” and it is during this period that we are supposed to reflect on the past year and repent for the sins we have made against God. It is also a time to seek forgiveness from people in your life that you may have wronged.
It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, everyone is inscribed in the Book of Life and given a chance for a fresh start for the New Year. We can influence God’s judgment of us during the Days of Awe through repentance, prayer, and charity. On Yom Kippur, it is said that the book is sealed.
The service that occurs at sundown when Yom Kippur begins is called Kol Nidre. It is named for the prayer that begins the service, and literally means “all vows.” In this prayer, we ask God to annul all personal vows we may make in the next year. These are vows that we all make every day without realizing, like promising God that we will pray for the next three months if we pass our chemistry midterm this week.
There are services for most of the next day, including a Yizkor service when we remember our loved ones who have died in past years. As on Rosh Hashanah morning, the shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown during the morning and concluding services on Yom Kippur.
Despite the serious undertones of the holiday, Yom Kippur is also one of the few times of the year when most of the members of a synagogue actually attend services. It’s a chance for people to catch up with old friends, and reconnect to their community.
At the end of the day, once services have concluded and the sun has set, people gather with family and friends to “Break the Fast.” As the name suggests, this is a chance to end a day of fasting and be grateful for the loved ones in your life.