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Community celebrates Yom Kippur

Robert Singer | Thursday, October 9, 2008

Starting at sunset Wednesday, members of Notre Dame’s Jewish community will officially begin observance of Yom Kippur, also known as the “Day of Atonement,” one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith.

Traditionally, Jews observe Yom Kippur by spending time in prayer, abstaining from work and fasting for the day.

Notre Dame junior Damian Sharratt, who is Jewish, said he will be observing the holy day by fasting and praying at a synagogue in South Bend with the local Jewish community.

Sharratt explained that today’s holiday marks the conclusion of the “10 Days of Repentance,” which began last Tuesday with Rosh Hashanah.

“Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment – the Jewish New Year,” he said. “It means that for Jews, the entire year is evaluated on that day to see how they did.”

On Rosh Hashanah, Sharratt said, the first of the 10 holy days, a person’s fate is “inscribed” based on God’s evaluation of their life over the past year. The next eight days, “days of awe,” serve as a period of prayer and reflection for Jews. Then on the final day, Yom Kippur, God “seals” their fate for the coming year.

Jewish Club president Jenna Zigman, a practicing Catholic but half-Jew by heritage, hosted a dinner at South Dining Hall Wednesday night to celebrate the holiday. She explained the significance of Yom Kippur.

“It sets the tone for the whole year,” Jenna said. “That’s why people take the 10 days so seriously, because it could affect the kind of year they’re going to have.”

Professor Curtis Franks, a practicing Jew and member of the Hebrew Orthodox Congregation in South Bend, further explained the holiday’s importance.

“It’s not just a time of prayer, but it’s also a time of coming to reconciliation with people we’re close to,” he said.

Franks translated the meaning of one of the Hebrew greetings that is commonly used on the holiday: “Leshana tova tikosevu.”

The phrase means, “May you be inscribed for a good and enjoyable New Year.”

“The idea behind that saying is that our fate is being inscribed in a book by God,” Franks said. “It’s a moment when free will and predeterminism realign annually.”

Sharratt explained the biblical significance of Yom Kippur, specifying the origin of its themes of penance and redemption.

“During Yom Kippur, the sin of the golden calf happened,” he said. “The basic idea is we have these 10 days to make resolutions and try to correct what we’ve done wrong in the past and continue to grow.”

It is traditional for Jews to avoid wearing jewelry on Yom Kippur, Sharratt said, so as to not remind God of the golden calf.

Although there are few Jewish Notre Dame students, Sharratt said he usually feels comfortable practicing his faith on a predominately Catholic campus.

“It is hard at times, but that’s natural wherever you go when you’re a minority,” he said. “People are very respectful here.”