By Lexi Sugar
Karen Shapiro used to shudder at the thought of Yom Kippur. For her, Yom Kippur invoked feelings of stress and anxiety. Fasting seemed daunting to Shapiro, but when she was given the opportunity to learn more about the holiday, her opinion changed.
“Honestly, to me, [Yom Kippur] is a very scary and serious day because it holds a lot of weight. It’s not necessarily pressure, but there is a serious tone of the day. Up until last year, when I was learning in Israel, I hated it. I really did not like it, I was afraid for what was going to happen this next year,” said Shapiro, a freshman in letters and sciences. “Now, I have learned how to use it to my benefit and understanding on a deeper level what the day is, which is all about proving connection.”
Jews observe Yom Kippur through different practices and customs, which can be strict. Though there are specific guidelines that explain how to properly observe the fast, many have their own modifications. These specific guidelines include not wearing leather shoes, no eating or drinking, no bathing or washing, and no applying any ointment, creams, or lotions, according to Chabad.org.
The holiday of Yom Kippur dates back to biblical times. During these times, Jewish priests would make sacrificial atonements for a year’s worth of sins by their tribes. In modern times, we atone by fasting and praying in order to rid ourselves of sins from the past year.
Mikaela Abergel, a freshman letters and sciences major, said she gauges how strictly she wants to take Yom Kippur on a year-by-year basis.
“Fasting is fasting. You don’t eat or drink,” Abergel said. “I don’t think I will brush my teeth this year. I don’t use any electricity of course.”
Yom Kippur is a time when many step back and reflect on the past year. In the same way that people have disparate views about fasting, their spiritual mindsets differ as well. Yom Kippur is a holiday that prompts thoughts of spirituality rather than solely focusing on the fast.
For Avital Hirschhorn, an OU-JLIC Maryland Hillel Torah educator, Yom Kippur marks a day of vital communion with God.
“When we fast on Yom Kippur it is because we are raising ourselves above this physical world. We strive to be on the level of an angel, on a complete spiritual plane, so connected and aware of our Creator,” Hirschhorn said. “Yom Kippur is a personal day between man and God. We ask forgiveness for our sins, we know that we want to be better! We know sometimes only subconsciously that in order to be close to God we need to be the best version of ourselves.”
No matter the level of observance, students and faculty at this university can agree that Yom Kippur serves as an interpersonal day between man and God. Fasting and observing this holiday, whichever way one interprets it, is a significant part of Judaism. Though definitions of fasting and what Yom Kippur means may differ, there is a common thread of importance that surrounds this holiday.