12:10am Friday 17th September 2010
By Barry Hyman
I've previously written about joyous Jewish festivals, but not the serious ones. Tonight [Friday 17th September] is the Eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. At sundown we commence 25 hours of prayer and complete fasting - no food or drink.
The one time a synagogue can put out the 'House Full' sign is tonight's service, know as 'Kol Nidrei.' These are the opening words of the first prayer. It means 'All vows' and asks forgiveness for past sins, or vows, and for those we may unerringly commit or utter in the year to come. [Sadly, it has been used in anti-semitic literature as a basis for asserting that an oath taken by a Jew may not be trusted. These happier days, our neighbours at Christ Church Radlett allow us to erect a marquee on their lawn, the synagogue not being large enough.] The Kol Nidrei chant is hauntingly beautiful. Indeed it was the climax to the first talking picture, Al Jolson's 'The Jazz Singer,' when Al returns to the community he has deserted to sing it in synagogue in place of his sick Cantor father.
The 'Kol Nidrei' service lasts three hours . [Old Jewish joke: Rabbi to congregant: ' I hardly ever see you in synagogue.' Congregant: 'Well, rabbi, it's always the same. Kol Nidrei, Kol Nidrei, Kol Nidrei!'] Regular worshippers may give a wry glance at those whose only appearance this is. It is not, however, for us to judge, but rather be pleased that the less committed worshipper still finds some attachment to our Faith, even if only an emotional one. So it is too with the afternoon service of 'Yizkor,' or 'remembrance,' the memorial prayers for deceased relatives. The concluding one-hour service, ending at sundown, is our 'final chance' to ask God to grant us another year. It is traditional to stand throughout this, although our rabbi says, 'Only if you can, as it it not traditional to pass out through lack of sustenance.' The end of Yom Kippur is signalled by a long blast on the Shofar or ram's horn.
A day without food or water, during which one is at non-stop worship [although some may slip in sotto voce a discussion on how Watford FC are doing!] is somehow cleansing and refreshing. Without wanting to sound too pious about it, a day free from all other activities can help clear the mind and settle the soul.
Come to synagogue next week, however, for Sukkot, or Tabernacles, and you'll find a much jollier scenario, when we wave myrtle, willow and date fronds around. For more info see Google - I've run out of space!
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