Daily Israel Report

Yom Kippur Services to be Secular-Friendly

Little-known aspect of Yom Kippur - "friendship and love," as per prayer liturgy - emphasized in 250 secular-friendly prayer services nationwide.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 10/8/2008, 9:58 AM

In an open pre-Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) letter originally sent last year to synagogue sextons, communal leaders and others, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger reminds them of their heavy responsibility vis-a-vis those who come to synagogue only once a year.

Similarly, a little-known aspect of the solemn day of Yom Kippur - it is a "day of friendship and love," according to the prayer liturgy - will be emphasized in some 250 secular-friendly prayer services around the country.  The services are being organized by the B'yachad (Together) and Tzohar (Window) organizations.  An unprecedented 50,000 people are expected to take part.

Yom Kippur services generally take up most of the day, and are attended, at least in part, even by Jews who do not otherwise frequent the synagogue.  The special services in some 250 locations around the country will be buttressed by the participation of religious youths and families from near and far.

Many of the services will be held in "neutral" locations such as community centers, in the hope of easing the way for those who feel less at home in a synagogue. Explanations will be added at various points in the service, and the pace will be regulated according to the participants' needs. During the breaks, the visitors and locals will talk and get to know each other.

The custom began in 2002, with a well-attended special service in the secular Kibbutz Mitzpeh Shalem on the Dead Sea shore. That same year, then-Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior also organized over 100 similar "secular minyanim" [prayer quorums], featuring a chazan [prayer leader], an instructor, and a director, as well as some observant Jews to give "life" to the service.
The details of the atonement service, the High Priest's once-a-year entry into the Holy of Holies, the sacrifices, and the joyous exhilaration expressed by the large congregation when a Divine sign proved that the atonement had been effective - are all reviewed in detail during the prayer service.

In addition to the above, the Ayelet HaShachar organization is organizing Yom Kippur services in 50 kibbutzes this year. Chairman Moti Reich says that in each case, the initiative to establish the prayer service comes from within the kibbutz, and his group then provides the logistics, organization, cantors, and prayer books.

The Yom Kippur prayer service emphasizes the various aspects of the Teshuvah [repentance] process, including specific acknowledgement of our sins, requests for forgiveness, the special atonement properties of the day, and more.  The Mussaf prayer is centered around the Atonement Service in the Holy Temple, for which the High Priest would prepare during the course of a full week; the details of the atonement service, his once-a-year entry into the Holy of Holies, the sacrifices, and the joyous exhilaration expressed by the large congregation when a Divine sign proved that the atonement had been effective - are all reviewed in detail during the prayer service.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger emphasized this year that special attention and friendship be offered to new immigrants, even those who have been here for several years.  His letter asks that synagogues "welcome our beloved brothers [veteran Israelis and others] with joy, help them in the prayers with respect, and ensure an uplifting spiritual experience."  The letter states:

"With the approach of the great and awesome day of Yom Kippur, we see clearly the holy influence of these Days of Awe on many of our brothers of the House of Israel, who seek to come closer to their Creator and to take part in the Yom Kippur prayers, asking on behalf of their families and themselves and praying that this be a year of blessing and salvation.

"These brothers who are not accustomed to frequenting the synagogue, and who so wish to be a part, even for a short while, of the holy congregation standing in prayer - very often, their knowledge in the ways of prayer and in the customs of the synagogue is not great.  They often thus stand sadly and bewilderedly, unable to join in with the rest of the worshipers.  It is the thought of this very prospect that keeps many of them from coming to the House of G-d.

"My request to you is to take note of these beloved brothers. Welcome them with happiness and a joyous countenance, and help them take part in the prayer service. Make sure to give them a seat in a respectable manner, next to someone who can help and guide them throughout the service.  This of course must be done pleasantly, making them feel comfortable and not pestered, so that their visit will become a deep and uplifting spiritual experience, one that will give them a desire to want to continue to come to the synagogue on other holidays as well, and thus to enjoy G-d's goodness.  There is no need to elaborate on the great merit this causes during these Days of Judgment.

"And may it be G-d's will that in the merit of our prayers, our joint spiritual awakening, and the increase of love and brotherhood among us, all of us together will merit to be inscribed for a good and sweet year, long life, peace and all good blessings."