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Yom Kippur, the ‘Day of Atonement’, is the most solemn day of the year. It takes place on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, in other words 10 days following Rosh Hashana, the new year. The ten days between the two festivals are known as the Ten Days of Penitence and represent a time of reflection and contemplation on one’s acts over the previous 12 months- a process known as teshuvah, or ‘returning’. During this period we think about the mistakes that we may have made and those we have wronged as well as where we may have erred in our relationship to God. We also think about how we can resolve to be better over the coming year. The day of Yom Kippur itself represents the culmination of that period of teshuvah  when we are closer to God than ever, renewing our relationship with him for the year ahead. 

What do people do?
This is not a time for frivolity. Starting before sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur, adults fast for 25 hours, not consuming any food or drink in order to concentrate themselves on the process of teshuvah and on their reconciliation with God. Of course those who are ill or for whom fasting would do harm, are not expected to fast.
People attend synagogue from the evening before for the service known as Kol Nidrei (meaning ‘All the Vows’). This is the most sombre part of Yom Kippur and marks the start of the Day of Atonement. Services are then held throughout the next day as follows:

•    Shacharit: the morning prayer which is followed by the Yizkor memorial services
•    Musaf: account of the Temple Service
•    Minchah: reading the book of Jonah
•    Neilah: service at sunset marking the “closing of the gates”

Throughout the day Jewish people pray the Al Chet, a confession of sins, eight times and recite Psalms every possible moment. The sound of the shofar marks the end of the day and people either return to their families, or stay together as a community to break the fast with a cup of tea followed by a more hearty meal.

The greeting for Yom Kippur is “G'mar Hatima Tova” (May you be sealed in the Book of Life), or the shorter version “G'mar Tov.” It is also customary to say “Well over the fast” before the holiday begins. Towards the end of the festival people may say ‘L’Shana Tovah’ (Happy New Year), or ‘Chag Sameach’ (joyous festival).

What do we do at Westminster Synagogue?
This tends to be the busiest time of the year, with our Kol Nidre service being the busiest of all. We have services throughout the day as above, but we also have separate services for Tots, Children, families and teenagers. 

Sun, 4 December 2022 10 Kislev 5783