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ISRAEL: Yom Kippur

October 8, 2008 |  7:45 am

GottliebYom Kippur, the day of atonement, begins this evening. The holiest day of the Jewish calendar is time for reflection, seeking forgiveness for sins against god and no less important, fellow man.

Most will fast and spend the day in synagogues in prayer, while others will do their soul-searching in their own way. 63% Jewish Israelis will fast on the day that is becoming one of the last communal, consensual elements of Israeli Judaism for many who do not practice other aspects of religion in daily life.

Beyond the religious importance, there is a national dimension to Yom Kippur too. It will forever be the anniversary of war that that caught Israel by surprise and most Israelis in the synagogues in 1973.

Since then, the holy day has taken on an additional meaning, making concepts of accountability and betterment meaningful to Israelis on a collective, national level.

The thick newspapers -- that help millions get through the fast lasting more than 24 hours -- offer interesting stories on the war every year.

The army recently approved publication of classified material from the Agranat Commission that had probed the war and testimonies including those of Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon were released in time for people to read over the holidays and contemplate in the context of today's Israel.

Hundreds of Israelis gathered this week at Rabin Square –- a worthy place for remorse -- to beg forgiveness of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit for failing to release him from captivity. Others are more traditional. The customary slaughtering of chickens to atone for one's sins (Kaparot) is still practiced by many Jews while others have moved on to using a token sacrifice coins that are given to charity.

There is no traffic. Only the occasional ambulance and security vehicles drive on Yom Kippur, perhaps an unintentional apology for environmental sins too. Secular Israeli kids have transformed the day into a bike holiday and hundreds of thousands of children of all ages pedal through the nation's streets on their one day of independence and safety. Relative safety, maybe, as the first news bulletins after the holiday always cite the number of bicycle accidents.

Jews wish each other "Gmar Hatima Tova" for a favorable sealing of fate and inscription in the book of life.

Hatima Tova to all.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, painted in 1878 by Maurycy Gottlieb. From Wikipedia; the image is in the public domain.

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