NORWALK, Conn. Nurit Avigdor and other members of Norwalk's Temple Shalom are looking forward to spending Saturday hungry and thirsty. They will go without food or water for 24 hours, starting at sundown Friday.
Why? It's Yom Kippur, perhaps the holiest day of the Jewish year. "Yom Kippur literally means the day of atonement," said Brien Leiken, assistant rabbi of the temple. "It's the time of the year in which Jews get together to reflect on their transgressions over the past year and to commit themselves to what we call Teshuvah."
Yom Kippur starts with the Kol Nidre service at sundown Friday. It is the ending ceremony of 10 days of reflection that began with Rosh Hashanah. A total of 1,500 to 2,000 people will attend Kol Nidre at Temple Shalom, a reform Jewish community, Leiken said. "Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the days of introspection, the most heavily attended days of the year," he said. "That has been for a long time."
Yom Kippur represents a New Year for the Jewish community, he said, adding that Jews have four new years in what most of society considers one year. "We like to be renewed again and again and again, and we like to celebrate again and again," he said with a smile.
Cantor Shirah Sklar said that the fast that begins with Kol Nidre includes an abstinence of even water. Exceptions are made, though, as for children or pregnant women. "It's tradition for everyone to spend the day in synagogue, and it's a fast day," she said. "It's really a day of reflection for all Jews around the world."
She said Jews forsake more than eating. "The idea is that in this day of reflection you give up all the worldly concerns that you have," she said. "So not only do you not eat and drink, you don't work, you're not concerned with the normal everyday routine. It's a day you spend most of the day in the synagogue praying."
Leiken said that traditionally, Jews wear a white gown known as a kittel as they spend Saturday praying at the temple. They will also be buried in a kittel. "In many respects you come face to face with death. Life is finite. But out of this comes this hope that you will use your days for the best. Make the most of them."
Avigdor led children in song Wednesday during their religious lesson as she taught them the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They sang "Shehechayanu," a traditional hymn for holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. Shehechayanu translates to "Blessed are you Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who gives us life, sustains us and brings us to this holiday season," Sklar said.
Avigdor told the children that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone can do better.
"When your friends, they are thinking about the New Year, they are thinking that this is the time that they are silly, or that they want to forget about the year past, or the time for party all night," she said. "But for a Jew, this is the time to examine ourselves very closely, see what kind of people we are and how we can grow to be better people and make this a world a better place."
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