Monday, October 13, 2008

Focus, prayer on holiest day

Yom Kippur involves 26 hours of very intense introspection

October 10, 2008


GURNEE -- Note to editor: the next time you assign a story on Yom Kippur, do it before Yom Kippur.

It is next to impossible to speak to a rabbi on the great Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. On Thursday, rabbis around the county had no time for reporters. They were busy helping the faithful focus on their souls, ask forgiveness for their sins and draw close to the one God.

Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum stands outside the new Chabad Jewish Center in Gurnee during construction last month. Tenenbaum was focused on the duties of the day Thursday, Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

After a morning of fruitless calls and unanswered voice-mail messages, I finally drove to the Chabad Jewish Center, 5101 Washington St., Gurnee, where I tracked down Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum, who had just finished leading the Yizkor Memorial Service.

But Tenenbaum, who wore a prayer shawl and white sheath, could not speak with me, he briefly and politely explained.

According to the center's Web site, for 26 hours during Yom Kippur, observant Jews "afflict" their souls, spending time in intense introspection. They abstain from regular activities including work and school, eating and drinking, washing or lotioning their bodies. They do not wear leather shoes. They also abstain from marital relations.

In ancient Jerusalem, during Yom Kippur, the high priest entered into the "Holy of Holies" to offer the ketoret and the "casting of lots" over two goats, one to be offered to God and the other to bear the sins of Israel to the wilderness. Today, the faithful spend Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Some where a white garment called a kittel, to call to mind sinless angels and as a reminder of "the day of our death."

The most solemn day of the year includes five prayer services. It concludes with the Ne'illah, the "closing of the gates" service at sunset. The Ne'illah climaxes in the resounding cries of "Hear Oh Israel... God is one" and a single blast of the shofar, followed by song and dance and a festive breaking-of-the-fast meal.

Gene Sherman of Gurnee and his son Todd, 14, a freshman at Warren Township High School, spoke with me during a break from services at Chabad Center.

Sherman said that during this Yom Kippur, he has been thinking about "all the wars going on in the world."

"I've thought about all the Jews killed over the centuries," Sherman said. "And how I don't want to see it happen to anybody else."

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