By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Jewish residents of Brooklyn and local synagogues are preparing for Yom Kippur, known in English as the Day of Atonement – the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar.
According to Jewish tradition, on this day, each person’s fate for the coming year is sealed on this day, but by prayer, repentance, confessions of guilt and charity, one can avert the harsh decree.
Jews traditionally fast on Yom Kippur, and even many Jews who otherwise consider themselves non-religious find themselves drawn to the synagogue at this time.
Among the highlights of the Yom Kippur ceremony are the “Kol Nidrei” prayer, which dates back at least to the first millennium C.E., and the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, at the end of the holiday.
Several Brooklyn-area rabbis and one communal leader gave their thoughts about the holiday and its message.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights, who also serves as executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that by fasting, “by depriving yourself, you are more sensitive to those who are enduring pain. You have to help others, because now you know what it is to go without food.
“Above all, the whole message is to re-prioritize your life,” he said.
Rabbi Aaron Raskin of Congregation B’nai Avraham, also in the Heights, said, “Our rabbis tell us that on the eve of Yom Kippur, it is a day of making resolutions for the future. T’shuvah [repentance] is not about regret – it’s about rethinking, coming close to God. This is done by good deeds and Torah study.”
Rabbi Samuel Weintraub of the Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill, said that at a recent event at the synagogue, the congregation spoke about the need for people to keep their compassion, even as the political arena around them becomes more and more fractured.
The holiday, he said, is also about trying to redeem and help people, even those with whom we have disagreements.
Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman of the Union Temple in Crown Heights said, “It’s a time for us to focus inward and really examine our behavior, both as individuals and a community. It’s a very serious day, and it’s a hard day.
“It’s really the most hopeful day of the year – it expresses to us that we can improve.”
Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Congregation B'nai Jacob in Park Slope said, "Yom Kippur is a day for self-examination and forgiveness. If we want to be forgiven for our mistakes, first we have to acknowledge that we've made mistakes."
Finally, William Rapfogel is not a pulpit rabbi but the CEO of the Metropolitan Conference on Jewish Poverty, which has a strong presence in Brooklyn. He said that the holiday helps us look at our own lives, and look at the lives of those who are less fortunate.
Often, he says, his heart is touched when he sees a poor person trying to help other who are even more needy. ‘When I saw a client give $20 in food stamps to help others, it brought tears to my eyes,” he said.