Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), for many Jews, is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. It is embodied by prayer and fasting with the ultimate aim of repentance. Yom Kippur means different things to everyone, some people focus on the abstention from food, for others it is a time of reflection on the past year and goal setting for the year ahead, and for some it is a time to ask for forgiveness from not only God but those around us. This year, there is an added level of meaning for me: the unity of the Jewish people.
A month ago I moved to London from Edinburgh. Despite moving to a new city I knew that there would still be one constant in my life: Judaism. As soon as I arrived in London I was made to feel extremely welcome by multiple different communities and made to feel at home. In every synagogue I have attended I have been able to experience a familiarity with the prayer and ritual. In every community, regardless of denomination, the stories we read from the Torah, the essence of our prayers and the selection of hummus, crackers and salmon we eat after the service are the same.
I know that this feeling will only be amplified on Yom Kippur as I am able to step into any synagogue and hear familiar words and sounds, and see familiar sights. This knowledge is extremely comforting and powerful. It is easy in our fast-paced modern world to dismiss the power of rituals and traditions, and personally I am in favour of the careful evolution of Jewish practice to create more inclusive spaces and practices. However, there is a certain weight to our ancient and global traditions, and in particular the blowing of the shofar.
The blowing of the Shofar (an ancient ritual horn, often from a ram) acts as a symbol of Unity around the world. To mark the end of Yom Kippur the shofar is sounded through one long continuous blast. The first shofar blasts marking the end of Yom Kippur this year will likely be heard in New Zealand and Australia, spreading across the globe until the shofar is blown for those living in Hawaii and Alaska some 23 hours later. This universal symbol stirs us and directs our attention to the many meanings of the day. Across the UK sounds of the shofar will echo around Synagogues and community halls, joining the chorus of blasts. Despite being four hundred miles from home I will be connected with not only my community in Edinburgh but every Jewish community around the world through this ancient tradition.
In times of conflict around the world (both among Jews and in the wider community) I go into this Yom Kippur hoping and praying that our community can recognise the importance of unity, not only with our fellow Jews but with those of all faiths and none, putting aside our perceived differences to create real change in the world.
Former Student Leader