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Yom Kippur Services for All

More than 250 special Yom Kippur services, in which religious and secular worshipers will pray together, will be held throughout the country.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 10/13/2005, 11:24 PM / Last Update: 10/12/2005, 8:13 AM

Sponsoring the services is the Tzohar ("Window") rabbis' organization, which 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 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.

Yom Kippur, literally the Day of Atonement, is a day of fasting, prayer and introspection. The country is essentially closed down; there is no public transportation or public electronic broadcasts, and stores and services are brought to a near-total standstill. Though bicycling has become a popular pastime on the holy day, to the dismay of many rabbis, even more prevalent on this day are prayer services - yet many non-religious Jews still refrain from attending, for various reasons.

The special prayer gatherings are designed to fill the void. They will be held in local community centers and schools in cities and towns of all sizes throughout the country. A full list (in Hebrew) can be found at this website. It includes twelve gatherings in Jerusalem, nine in Tel Aviv, two in Mevaseret Zion, and others in Eilat, Mitzpeh Ramon, northern Israel, Judea/Samaria, and just about everywhere else.

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.

Tzohar's other activities in seeking to present Orthodox Judaism in a tolerant and welcoming fashion include conducting weddings for secular couples, pre-wedding counseling for brides and grooms, educational activities, counseling for community rabbis with the goal of elevating their status and involving them in all areas of public life, and more.

The organization hopes that the 250 services it is organizing this year will provide an opportunity for the religious and non-religious sectors to experience the Yom Kippur atmosphere together, and to "pray in a traditional style in an open and friendly manner, while dealing with matters touching on Jewish and Israeli culture."