Rabbi David Stav
Rabbi David StavArutz Sheva

Tens of thousands of secular Israeli Jews are scheduled to join in prayer services all around the country, as part of the Tzohar Rabbinic organization's Praying Together on Yom Kippur initiative. The program is designed to provide Israelis who typically shy away from traditional prayer services with a welcoming and comforting environment in which to spend the holiest day in the Jewish year.

Surveys done in the 1990s found that two thirds of Jewish Israelis, including about half of the secular Jews, fast on Yom Kippur. Tzohar believes that many secular Israelis want to go to synagogue on this day but stay home because they feel alienated at established synagogues. As part of its mission to bridge the gap between religious and secular Israelis, the group will be organizing over 200 free explanatory Yom Kippur services in kibbutzim, moshavim and cultural centers across the country this Yom Kippur.

 “Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to religious practice and show them that there are many ways to embrace religion and become spiritually involved with one’s Judaism,” said Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of Tzohar. “We know that despite being classified as secular, this segment of Israeli society often has a burning desire to demonstrate their love for Jewish tradition and we strongly believe that this effort will help them feel closer to their identity as proud Jews.”

Now in its eleventh year, the Praying Together program has expanded annually, reaching more communities and participants than ever before. Participants are provided with a special Yom Kippur prayer book  and a detailed handout explaining the rituals, meaning of the prayers and process (when to stand, when to bow, etc.) that takes place during the day, to ensure it is a meaningful and encompassing experience for all.

“There are many Israelis like me who do not label themselves religious, but are proud Jews,” says Yoav of Moshav Eshtaol near Beit Shemesh. “This welcoming program has been a unifying Jewish experience for me and despite the fact that most people would define me as secular, I look forward to participating again this year.”

Nachman Rosenberg, Executive Vice President for Tzohar said that the success of the Yom Kippur program has led the organization to develop similar initiatives all across the Jewish calendar.  “Our goal is to make Jewish practice into something Israelis of all backgrounds can embrace on their own terms and in a setting where they feel most comfortable,” Rosenberg said.  “If we can accomplish that, then we are confident that the gaps between us all can be slowly narrowed.”

Chabad also holds services for the non observant and religious youth groups send their volunteers to secular kibbutzim and similar places to conduct Yom Kippur services.