Beginning Sept. 22, the Jewish people will begin celebrating Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Senior Rabbi William Gershon, who has been at the Congregation Shearith Israel in Preston Hollow for 17 years, said Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of fasting, which means no drinking, no eating, and no washing.
“It’s a total, kind of, self-denial,” he said. “And over these 24 hours of prayer and introspection, it’s kind of like a lawyer browbeating a witness. At some point, you kind of break down the armor that surrounds you and you allow the truth to enter. Hopefully you can kind of bear yourself before God in order to seek the forgiveness you need to seek, because we’re all human and everybody has foibles and everybody has shortcomings.”
Gershon has been a rabbi since 1987 and serves as the president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of conservative rabbis. He was raised in New Jersey and has served pulpits in Minneapolis and Southfield, Mich. Earlier this year, he was given an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
The week before Yom Kippur, starting Sept. 13, the Jewish people also celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which is the beginning of the new Jewish year.
“(Rosh Hashanah) really initiates a process in which people begin intensely thinking about their lives and their relationships and how they need either to mend relationships or improve their lives in terms of the spiritual and emotional, psychological quality of their lives and also the quality of their relationships,” Gershon said. “You know, if they’ve hurt people, if they’ve let people down, if they’ve let themselves down — that’s on one level and at the same time, they’re also thinking about their relationship with God. And so that all kind of gets into high gear, if you will, on Rosh Hashanah.”
While fasting for 24 hours on Yom Kippur, many Jewish people also will visit a synagogue to pray and hear sermons. Gershon said the Jewish community will go to a synagogue the evening of Yom Kippur to begin the holiday. Then the next morning, they will return for a day of services. Finally, after the final service, they will head home to break the fast.
“Yom Kippur is meant to help us uncover those (shortcomings), and you emerge from Yom Kippur pure and cleansed and renewed,” he said. “In fact, the Tanakh says it’s the happiest day of the Jewish year because when you go through that process, there’s a certain weight that’s lifted off one’s shoulder when you emerge.”