CONFESSION, FASTING MARK YOM KIPPUR.
A day of prayer and fasting begins at sundown today when Jews observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
``Yom Kippur is considered the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the day on which we approach God individually to confess our sins,'' said Rabbi Donald Goor of Temple Judea in Tarzana.
``It's a day of reflection, of contemplation, of confession and of renewal. We abstain from eating and drinking, along with other things, so that we can focus on the serious work of the day.''
Synagogues this evening will hold services called Kol Nidre or ``all vows.'' The Kol Nidre prayer and communal confessions are recited during this service. Yom Kippur day services include Torah readings and a memorial service. A shofar is sounded at the final service near sundown on Monday.
``The Kol Nidre prayer releases us from any vow we made last year between us and God,'' said Rabbi John Borak from Temple Ner Maarav in Encino. ``If you said last year to God, I'm never going to lie or argue or - fill in the blank - and you weren't able to keep those vows, you are released from the guilt and burden for those promises to God that you couldn't keep.''
``It doesn't release us from the vows we made to people, however,'' he added.
Rabbi Mark Blazer from Temple Beth Ami, a Reform congregation in Newhall, said asking for forgiveness of sins against God on Yom Kippur involves intense scrutiny of the way one lives one's life.
``It's almost as if we're going through a dress rehearsal of our death on this day,'' Blazer said. ``If these are the last moments of our life, are we going to be satisfied with how we've lived our life?''
``When we reconcile with God on this day through admission and confession, we think of our sins more like 'missing the mark' or not living up to our potential. We're admitting to sins of omission - the things we should have done but didn't do. We ask ourselves, 'Where did we miss the right path?'''
Abstaining from all food and drink is one of Yom Kippur's key rituals. Depriving the body of everyday comforts is one way Judaism teaches people how to connect with the world, Borak said.
``Everyone knows it is good to feed the hungry. If you had fasted on Yom Kippur, at the end of the day your tongue would be dry, your lips swollen, your head pounding and more than anything you would be thinking of running to get a drink of water and to eat,'' said Borak.
``If we understand the pain of not eating and drinking, there's a whole other impetus on an intellectual, spiritual and emotional level to say, 'Now I know what it's like to be hungry.' We can think then about what we can do for all the people in the world who don't have the comforts we have.''
Goor personally sees Yom Kippur as a quiet and meditative time to reflect on his life, actions and goals. He will challenge his Reform congregation in his sermons on this day to take an active part in the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
Noting that Yom Kippur is sometimes referred to as a ``day of awe and trembling,'' Blazer will discuss in his sermons how people deal with fear.
``We're still dealing with fear from 9-11. I think we're being led again by our fears this year,'' Blazer said. ``We have to be careful that we're not paralyzed by our fears but that we can grow and learn from fear.''
Borak will remind his Conservative congregation that the central message of Yom Kippur is to choose life.
``Yom Kippur prayers remind us that death is always near. Yom Kippur is a very interesting holiday. In a way, it's a practice to being dead,'' said Borak. ``In the coming year, we don't know who is going to die. Death can happen at any time and to anyone. Yom Kippur reminds us how precious life is. When the day ends and we're racing for the orange juice and bagels, we should embrace and live life fully as the remarkable gift it is.''
Holly Andres, (818) 713-3708
(color) Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami, a Reform congregation in Newhall, likens the Jewish Day of Atonement to a dress rehearsal of one's last moments alive.
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer