Dear Friend of Israel,
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will be observed beginning at sundown on Friday, September 29. The most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, and the end of the High Holy Days, it is a time for Jews to contemplate their sins and reconcile themselves to both God and man through repentance and prayer.
On Yom Kippur, Jews refrain from work as well as food and drink, and spend most of the day in synagogue. It is especially striking to be in Israel during this time. The country is completely transformed – shops and entertainment venues are closed, there are no television and radio broadcasts, and public transportation shuts down. Among people of a certain generation, memories of the Yom Kippur War, started by a surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria on this day in 1973, add to the solemnity.
Apart from the holiday there are, of course, many reasons for Jews – and all who are concerned about the state of the world – to be solemn. Anti-Semitism, “the longest and deepest hatred of human history” in the words of author Edward Flannery, continues to rise. Israel still searches for a true partner for peace. Radical Islamist terrorism, too, continues to rise; now, like Israel, western countries know that they are not immune from this scourge.
But we must not forget that the Yom Kippur services end in a spirit of joy, with the blast of the shofar and cries of “Next year in Jerusalem!” This is a powerful affirmation that God has sustained the Jewish people through many trials and tribulations, and will continue to. Peace may be elusive, but we remain hopeful and sure of God’s promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2).
My friends, for all of us – Jews and Christians alike – I pray that this holy season serves as a reminder that God is still with us, and hears the prayers of those who turn to him in a spirit of true humility and repentance. This is reason for hope and great thanksgiving even during dark times. Let us allow this hope in God’s goodness and mercy to follow us not just now, but throughout the year.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President