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Jewish High Holy Days Underway

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Photo via Flickr// Avital Pinnick
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  Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – began at sundown Sunday and runs until sundown Tuesday, when it ushers in Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, its significance originating from Leviticus 16:30 – “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God.” Fleekop says that includes both sins against God and against Man.

“Jewish tradition teaches that we must do what we call ‘chuva’ which means ‘turning,’” said Rabbi Joel Fleekop of Pensacola’s Temple Beth-El -- Florida’s oldest Jewish congregation. “It’s a multistep process of identifying our mistakes, asking for forgiveness if it’s somebody that we have wronged, and then most importantly, resolving not to repeat that mistake in the year to come.”

During the 24 hours of Yom Kippur, the focus turns to self-discipline and introspection through fasting and living simply.

“The other customs include special Scriptural readings from the Torah – the five Books of Moses – and from the other parts of the Hebrew Bible,” Fleekop said. “There are special prayers that are offered, that ask God to both judge us fairly and forgive us for our past mistakes.”

Yom Kippur services open with the Kol Nidrei, or “All Vows.” The name refers to both the opening prayer and the service. The prayer can be performed either by musical instrument or by voice.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are part of the period in Judaism known as the “High Holy Days”.  Fleekop says the two holidays are considered to be connected.

“Not necessarily of worship, but taking the time to reflect on the year past. The holidays are in many ways connected, perhaps the way you think of the week leading up to Easter is all connected to Easter.”

The closing service at sundown Wednesday features the cries of “Hear O Israel – God is one,” and then song and dance followed by a single blast of the shofar – Ram’s Horn -- and the proclamation “Next year in Jerusalem.” Afterward, Rabbi Joel Fleekop says, it’s time to break the fast.

“Normally we have a ‘challah,’ a special braided bread on our Sabbath, and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we use a rounded challah that represents the fullness of the year,” said Fleekop. “We also dip apples in honey for a sweet and happy New Year.”

And the after-fast meal and related festivities make the evening after Yom Kippur a “Yom Tov” – or festival – in its own right.