In wake of attacks, Yom Kippur takes an even more solemn tone

By Richard N. Ostling AP Religion Writer
Friday September 28, 2001



The solemn tone of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, was made even more somber Thursday as worshippers remembered victims of the terrorists attacks. 

A day of fasting and prayer, Yom Kippur is normally devoted strictly to the confession of sins and reconciliation with God. But at Temple Emanu-El in Miami Beach, congregants who knew victims of the tragedy were asked to stand and call out the names of the dead. 

“September 11 is the Yom Kippur for America,” Rabbi Leonid Feldman said. 

The devastation “required a wholesale change of direction for us,” said Rabbi Kenneth Chasen of Westchester Reform Temple in suburban Scarsdale, N.Y., which lost two congregants. Services had to acknowledge worshippers’ grief while maintaining the age-old emphasis on “the humility of working to improve ourselves.” 

Congregation Ohev Shalom in Orlando, Fla., preserved the same balance. Said Rabbi Aaron Rubinger: “I’m a little hesitant to allow the terrorists to hijack the High Holy Days.” 

At Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, Rabbi David Goldstein’s Thursday sermon, in the form of a letter to his granddaughter, denounced “ugly xenophobes who don’t like Jews or blacks or, right now, don’t like Arabs either. 

“May you cherish pluralism and diversity and an unyielding tolerance for everyone,” he said. 

The Yom Kippur mourning ritual, which speaks of a book with the names of who shall live and who shall die, is “a very difficult thing to sit through” for many, even in an ordinary year, said Sherry Birnbaum, who has talked with many grieving families as a counselor at Westchester Jewish Community Services in Hartsdale, N.Y. That was only made worse by the events of this month. 

Larry Sherman, a member of North Shore Congregation in Glencoe, Ill., expressed the mood of many worshippers: “I can’t get it out of my mind. It’s hard to focus on anything but what happened.” 

Psychiatrist Michael Bennett attended worship at Boston’s Temple Israel. “It’s not just a Day of Atonement. It’s trying to gain perspective on your life,” he said. 

Judaism’s High Holy Days began with Rosh Hashana, the New Year, six days after the attacks. Yom Kippur concludes the season.