Just as New Year's Day is a time for many people to reflect on the past year and establish new goals, the last seven days since Rosh Hashana, start of the Jewish New Year, have been a period of self-examination and penitence for Jews.
The 10 "Days of Reverence" began last Monday on Rosh Hashana and will culminate Wednesday on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement." Yom Kippur actually starts at sundown Tuesday, and a special service for the local Jewish community is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kansas Union Ballroom.
"New year is appropriately a time of taking stock of our lives," said David Katzman, KU history professor. "Metaphorically, this is the time when it is decided who will live and who will die, who will prosper and who will not. It is a time of repentance. It is a time of prayer."
Katzman said this period also is one of individual reassessment of attitudes, values and relationships with others, and of seeking reconciliation with associates and with God. The Kol Nidrei part of Tuesday night's service plays a significant symbolic role in that process.
"KOL NIDREI is a prayer in which we ask God to forgive us of any transgressions that we have made with God during the past year," said Fred Scheff, cantor for the Jewish Community Center. "In other words, one hopes to wipe the slate clean."
Scheff said the prayer took on heightened significance for Jews imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, where Jews may have been forced to work on the Sabbath or not allowed to maintain a diet consistent with their religious beliefs.
Katzman will speak of another historic event, a much happier one, during Tuesday night's service when he makes the traditional appeal for Jews to give to charity. Katzman said Russian and Ethiopian Jews who have found new freedoms will need assistance as they emigrate to Israel and other countries.
Yom Kippur services will continue Wednesday at the Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland. One service will be at 9:30 a.m., and another service starting at 5:15 p.m. will include the Ne'ilah service. Ne'ilah means "the gates are closing."
"YOU HOPE that your prayers make it through the gates (of heaven) and that your name is sealed in the book of life," Scheff said.
Scheff said Tuesday night's service was not being held at the Jewish Community Center because, with the considerable Jewish student population at KU, it is estimated that 375-500 people will attend. The Jewish Community Center comfortably holds about 300 people, Scheff said.
The Tuesday night service is being sponsored jointly by the community center and Hillel House, a Jewish cultural center for KU students.