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Yom Kippur and Jewish Memory

Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur” by Maurycy Gottlieb

Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur” by Maurycy Gottlieb

The central theme of Yom Kippur is naturally repentance and heavenly forgiveness. This theme is emphasized in the order of the prayer services of the day. The recitation of the confession of our sins and our commitment to try and do better are an integral part of all of the prayers of this holy day. Yet, there is another, more subtle idea that haunts the Yom Kippur prayer services. That is the recollection of the story of the Jewish people, of our past troubles and triumphs and our ability to endure all and survive and remain vital.

The Kol Nidrei prayer, which begins the Yom Kippur evening service, evokes for us the memory of the converso Jews of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition and expulsion. In the Kol Nidrei prayer, we state that we are permitted to pray together with all of those Jews who have transgressed and even fallen away from Judaism’s practices and values. We remember all of the dark periods of Jewish life over our long exile – the persecutions and forced conversions, the auto-de-fes and the crypto-Jews forced to practice their faith hiding in dark and dank cellars. Yom Kippur therefore comes to remind us not to write off any Jew. There will come another generation of return and rejuvenation. Yom Kippur reminds me of Dona Gracia Beatriz Mendez and Rabbi Menashe ben Yisrael. Both were baptized as Christians when they were infants, yet both rose to become defenders of Jews and Judaism. Kol Nidrei reminds me of Russian Jewry of our time, risen from the atheism and persecution of communism to reassert their Jewishness and return home to the Land of Israel. Their ancestors may have rebelled and cast off Judaism in their zeal to build the brave new world, but they have returned home to help build the strong and growing Jewish state. click here to read more

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