Over 170 gatherings have already signed up for special Yom Kippur services for the uninitiated, sponsored by the Tzohar Rabbis Organization.
Tzohar means “window,” and the organization says it’s a “window between worlds” – the religious and the secular. It is dedicated to reaching out to the secular public and helping to fashion the country's Jewish identity via dialogue and "the search for common elements of identity."
The guiding principle of the Yom Kippur services is that many Israelis who are not familiar with Judaism and who generally do not take part in High Holiday services will feel more comfortable participating in "prayer and study gatherings" of this nature.
Nachman Rosenberg, Executive Vice President of Tzohar, explained to hosts Yishai and Malkah Fleisher on IsraelNationalRadio, “Many secular Jews don’t find their place in regular Yom Kippur services, either because there’s no room, or because they feel intimidated from the unfamiliar surroundings, or because they may have had uncomfortable experiences in the past with the religious establishment. So about nine years ago, Tzohar said that Yom Kippur is too holy, and the interest is too sincere, to allow this opportunity to go to waste. So we said that we would ‘bring the services to them,’ with hundreds of religious volunteers rounded up to help lead the services and explain the unfamiliar and difficult parts.”
Yom Kippur, literally the Day of Atonement, will happen this coming Sunday evening and Monday. A day of fasting, prayer and introspection, the country is essentially closed down, with no public transportation or electronic broadcasts, and practically no open stores or services. Bicycling has become a popular pastime on the holy day, to the dismay of many rabbis, but even more prevalent on this day are prayer services - yet many non-religious Jews still refrain from attending, for various reasons.
The special Tzohar prayer gatherings are designed to fill the void, and will be held in local community centers and schools in cities and towns of all sizes. Participants are provided with a special Yom Kippur prayer book and detailed handouts that explain the rituals, the meaning of the prayers, and things like when to stand or bow.
"Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to religious practice," says Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of Tzohar. "We want to show them that there are many ways to embrace religion and become spiritually involved with one's Judaism."