Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. And despite its somber name, it is one Rabbi Shaul Praver of the Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown, looks forward to the most.
"It's actually my favorite day of the year. The root of the word 'atonement' is 'at one,' and it's the time we become at one with man and God," said Praver. "Throughout our lives there is always someone that hurts or offends us, sometimes being kept in our minds from early childhood, and all of these resentments keep us from being at one with the world as it is."
Praver compares old resentments with a full answering machine — when it's full, it can't take in any more. Yom Kippur is the time to let go of old grudges.
"In order to become 'at one' with God, you have to release all of these people. Forgive them and let them go," he said. "It goes without saying that when we do things wrong, we should take responsibility for them, but if we want to be forgiven we have to be forgiving."
Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday.
At Congregatioon Adath Israel, there will be a 6 p.m. service in the synagogue during which the traditional Kol Nidrei prayer will be recited.
The Kol Nidrei originated in medieval times when many Jews were said to have renounced their faith under duress during the Spanish Inquisition. The words mean "all vows," and the prayer signified the rejection of vows made in order to avoid torture or death.
"Or course, it doesn't mean the same thing to us today. Christianity and Judaism are closer than they've ever been in history," Praver said.
Today, the Kol Nidrei's purpose is to reject any promises made that separate man from God, "things that are not good for us," said Praver.
The Kol Nidrei service also marks the beginning of a 26-hour fast.
For Newtown resident and congregation member Katherine Kohrman, Yom Kippur is a time for prayer, family, and connection to her community.
"We have a festive meal before the beginning of the fast," she said. "We attend services in the evening for the traditional chanting of the Kol Nidrei prayer."
Kohrman's family also bakes fresh challah, a traditional braided bread eaten on Jewish holidays. There are extended prayer services on the day of Yom Kippur.
"We spend much of the day in the synagogue with a short break in the afternoon," Kohrman said, adding that her family from out of state comes to visit and joins them for services. "The service ends in the evening with final blast of the shofar, which is a hollowed-out ram's horn. It's been blown since the time of the temple in Jerusalem."
The shofar is only blown once at the end of the long service on Saturday and it marks the end of the fast. Members of Congregation Adath Israel gather as a community to break the fast with traditional Jewish foods, including bagels and lox, challah, and blintzes.
The month of September is the most important in the Jewish calendar because it also contains two other observances. Yom Kippur is preceded by Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which began this year on the evening of last Wednesday and lasted through last Friday.
Later in the month, Jews will celebrate Succot, which commemorates the 40 years Jewish people wandered in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. Succot is the name for the temporary dwellings ancient Jews built to protect them from the sun.
Succot lasts for seven days and this year will run from the evening of next Wednesay through Sept. 29.
Reporter's Note: Photography is not permitted during Jewish services. All pictures accompanying this article were taken at other times.