Yom Kippur this year starts on the evening of September 15 and ends the evening of September 16
By Michael Friedman
In 2021, living a Jewish life means more than ritual observance. It means deciding to stand with Israel, her courageous citizens and Jewish destiny.
Yom Kippur is literally “The Day of Atonement,” but what does “atonement” mean? When was the last time you used “atonement” in a text or casual conversation? The words sound so musty and archaic, like it is a relic of a forgotten epoch.Kippur, or Kapara, literally means, “cleaning” or “cleansing.”
Just as the custom is to wear white, and emulate celestial beings who do not eat, the day itself is one of joyful recharging. Like emerging from a ritual bath we emerge from Yom Kippur anew – with new hope, new potential, and new beginnings open before us.
The Mishna describes how Jews in Israel experienced Yom Kippur two millennia ago. It states that Yom Kippur and Tu Be’av were days of dressing in white and dancing in the fields, inviting new relationships and new ventures. Despite popular associations, the day is not at all morose or oppressive, despite that some places of worship contribute to this misconception.
Every holy day is referred to in the Torah as a mo’ed, which literally means a “meeting.” In English, the phrase “I have a meeting” refers to an appointed time to interface with someone. Therefore, every mo’ed is meant to be relationship-oriented, a time of dedicated love and care. We create the time and space to minimize the flutter of constant notifications and news feeds.
Maimonides codified in Jewish law that God gave festivals to the Jewish people in order that they should enjoy and delight in them. We designate these days to enjoy cherished relationships with our loved ones and friends, whom we are often too busy to focus on and too overprogrammed to prioritize. But how exactly do I focus on relationships while fasting and spending time in the synagogue? How are relationships built with family or community on Yom Kippur if I am focused on pangs of hunger and thirst?
The answer that resonates with me is that Yom Kippur is not just a regular day of divine “meeting.” It is exceptional among holidays. In English, again, a meeting to which we refer that encapsulates the most love and care between people is called a “date.” Curiously, that word also carries the same double meaning.
There is a date on a calendar, as well as a date when romantic partners designate time for one another. If Jewish holy days in general are points of meeting between us and the Creator of the Universe, Yom Kippur is even more intimate.