Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement in the Bible, is regarded as the holiest and most solemn holiday on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of prayer, fasting and repentance. Yom Kippur is observed at the end of the 10 Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im, meaning Days of Awe, a sacred and serious time period in the Jewish community), beginning with Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, heralding the onset of the High Holy Day season. Together, these two holy days are closely linked.
Beginning on the tenth day in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, Yom Kippur signifies the final opportunity for Jewish people to seek forgiveness for their sins committed in the previous year, and to receive God’s blessing for the new year. The main observance is a fast—abstaining from all food and drink—from the evening of Yom Kippur until the following evening.
This period of strict observance coincides with spending the day in fervent, deep, and intentional prayer and communal repentance at the synagogue. The shofar—a ram’s horn—is blown by one or several worshippers in front of the entire congregation – to signify the conclusion of the prayer and fasting period.
In Israel, during Yom Kippur, the entire country comes to a halt. There is virtually no traffic on the highways or roads. It is customary to see families and individuals walking together to their synagogue or to a place where they observe the solemnity of the day with others. Children can be seen playing in the deserted streets and alleyways. Businesses are closed. Israeli radio and television stations even suspend operations until the end of the holiday.
If you are in Israel during this time, consider participating in Yom Kippur services at a local synagogue. Perhaps you can use this occasion to take a long stroll around the area. If you are staying in a hotel, there is usually a limited buffet available to guests who do not wish to participate in the fast.
Prior to, and during this solemn, somber day, during the 10 Days of Awe, it is customary to share the following words with others in the community: “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the greeting to one another is, “May you have been sealed in the Book of Life, G’mar chatimah tovah.” It is proper to say, “Have a meaningful fast,” as Yom Kippur approaches with the wish that the worshipper will demonstrate proper and decent conduct in focused prayer.