Beyond the traditional fasting, the wearing of white clothing and the disavowal of leather shoes, the central theme is repentance and forgiveness on Yom Kippur.
So said Ovadia Goldman, rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Greater Oklahoma City, as he prepares for the holiday that is considered to be the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
Yom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown Tuesday and ends at sundown Wednesday. The 24 hours of Yom Kippur is traditionally a time of reflection, self-examination and spiritual assessment for many people. The Book of Jonah, with its themes of repentance, forgiveness, hope and responsibility, customarily recited during Yom Kippur services.
Goldman said he expects Yom Kippur services to draw some of the largest crowds of the year because of the solemn and sacred nature of the holiday. He said services at the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, 3000 W Hefner Road, often draw many Jews who are unaffiliated with a local synagogue or temple.
They come, he said, because of a stirring within their souls that calls them to the day's focus on relationships — both with God and man.
“They're spending most of their day in meditation, reflection and prayer all centering around God and that's an incredible thing,” Goldman said.
The rabbi said Jews take this time to ask God's forgiveness for any spiritual pledges and vows they made to Him that they did not fulfill. He said people then reflect on their relationships with other people in their lives. Some may seek forgiveness from someone or try to mend broken fellowship between themselves and another person.
Goldman said he has seen long-standing family feuds and quarrels among friends fall away because of the theme of forgiveness that surrounds Yom Kippur.
“Some of these long-standing feuds, in one conversation, in one phone call, a person decided that just like God forgives humanity on that day, so years of fighting should go to the wayside and a whole new chapter of that relationship opened up,” he said.
Goldman said many Jews will fast on the holiday and some will wear white clothes, which is a Yom Kippur custom. He said some people also will forgo the wearing of leather shoes during the holiday, which is a requirement in keeping with Jewish law.
He said this rejection of physical comforts is in line with the holiday's focus on one's inner spirituality.
“It's all part of restricting your physical comfort that day so that your body becomes less the focus and your spiritual side becomes more the focus,” Goldman said.
“That's the real essence of Yom Kippur — being in God's presence and being enveloped by His love, being in this mode of letting go and forgiving. Asking for forgiveness from humans and from God, there is a cleansing to be able to move forward more positive and more Godly focused.”