GV’s Jewish community observes Yom Kippur


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Gillian Hanton, Staff Writer

This past Thursday marked Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish faith. Grand Valley State University students and staff celebrated the holiday in various ways, including on-campus events, community ceremonies and private worship. 

Yom Kippur, or the “Day of Atonement”, is a solemn day in which followers of Judaism repent for any sins they have committed over the last year. Its origins lie around 1300 BCE, where it is believed that Moses climbed Mount Sinai and prayed to God for forgiveness for himself and his people. For two 40-day periods, Moses remained on the mountain in a state of intense prayer and “atonement.” Judaism celebrates the last ten days of Moses’s stay as the “High Holy Days”, which begin with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.  

Recurring every September or October, Yom Kippur is regarded as the final opportunity for people of the Jewish faith to reconcile their own sins with God, reflect on the past, and better themselves for the future. 

“Yom Kippur is a very special period where you’re supposed to be considering your own behavior and how it affects yourself and other people,” said Professor Karen Libman, a practicing Jew. 

In addition to consideration of personal actions, several traditions are carried out on Yom Kippur. The holiday commences the evening prior to the main day of worship, where abstention from eating, drinking, and working begins. The purpose behind giving up these habits is to ensure that the focus of Yom Kippur remains on faith and spirituality, without distraction.  

The following day is spent mainly in the synagogue, where a series of services, rituals, prayers, and meditations occur. The day usually starts with readings from the Torah, followed by a period of “teshuva” or repentance, a break for rest, back to the synagogue for the “yizkor,” a ceremony to honor the dead, and finally the “neilah”, a performance of a solemn melody which marks the end of Yom Kippur and the abstentions.

After worship, a break-fast meal is traditionally shared among friends and family and is seen as an opportunity to rejoice. On-campus, Hillel, a Jewish group at GVSU, hosted a Break the Fast dinner for students at Kirkhof Center. The event lasted from 6-8 pm, complete with chicken wings, mac and cheese, roasted potatoes, and cake for attendees.  

Despite the importance of the Yom Kippur in Judaism, it is often overlooked by non-Jewish people, organizations, and companies. 

“It can get pretty frustrating having to remind people of Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur every year,” Libman said. “It has definitely gotten better over the years, but it’s still a struggle.”

According to recent statistics, there are only 15 million people practicing Judaism worldwide, approximately 0.2% of the population. However, there is still a prominent Jewish presence at GVSU and in Michigan. For this reason, religious diversity and inclusion need to continue to be a priority at GVSU. 

Despite the challenges that come with being a religious minority, the Jewish community continues to support one another through difficult and complicated times, largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Libman said.  

“Right now especially, I feel blessed to be a part of such a small community,” Libman said. “I’ve learned so much through my synagogue, and I am just so lucky to be where I am.”