Yom Kippur a time to reflect and reach out

The day of fasting, which ends at sundown today, is meant for thinking of one’s self and others.

by Nina Petersen-Perlman

University students joined Jewish people around the world Wednesday night in beginning their daylong fast in observance of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance.

This year’s holiday took on special significance because of its concurrence with Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast, Hillel Director Rabbi Sharon Stiefel said.

“I think it brings (Jews and Muslims) together in spirit,” she said. “We’re both in a time of prayer and a time to reflect on hopes for peace. We have global fasting and global prayers, and that makes us closer together.”

Stiefel said the theme for her sermon Wednesday night was one of unpredictability and things being out of humans control.

“This year was bookended by the tsunami, Hurricanes Rita and Katrina and now the earthquake,” she said. “Yom Kippur is the day when we look more at our limitations.”

Yom Kippur is also “a day of introspection, a day devoted to examining where we have gone wrong,” Stiefel said. “For sins against God we pray for forgiveness, and for sins against other people we ask each other for forgiveness. It’s a chance to reflect as a community.”

Yom Kippur marks the end of the Days of Awe, which began on Rosh Hashana. The fast lasts from sundown Wednesday to sundown today. First-year student Amir Zadaka said he uses the time to reflect on human suffering.

“I’ll be thinking about how other people might not be eating,” he said.

Hillel president and cinema and media culture senior Evan Stern said the holiday was not just about communicating with God but also about being introspective.

“It’s good to reflect because it’s healthy psychologically,” he said. “It can help us find direction and to get in touch with our deepest emotions – be it grief, regret, sorrow or even happiness.”

Stern also said Yom Kippur presents an opportunity to really experience discomfort.

“It’s not about how you get through the fast,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be easy or pleasant. You should hunger and you should feel it.”

As has become tradition in many Jewish communities, Hillel is collecting items and donations Thursday for a local food shelf.

First-year mass communication student Jenny Baddin said she plans to follow this tradition even though she’s away from home for the holiday for the first time.

“I always try to purchase food for food drives,” she said. “You can’t save the world in one day, but if everyone donated a little bit of food it could make a huge impact.”

Stern said Hillel was looking for any nonperishable food items.

“We all have stuff that’s been lying around and that’s the perfect thing to get rid of,” he said.

Hillel is planning two services today; a morning service at 9 and an afternoon and Ne’ilah service at 5:45 p.m., with a break-fast, meaning “break the fast,” to follow the service. There is a second break-fast planned for 8:30 p.m. at Manhattan Loft.