The Jerusalem Post

Yom Kippur: Examining our habits and finding Jewish unity - comment

 COVERING YOUR mouth with your hand or clothing when coughing or sneezing, protects other people from germs and is polite, says the writer. Illustrative photo. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
COVERING YOUR mouth with your hand or clothing when coughing or sneezing, protects other people from germs and is polite, says the writer. Illustrative photo.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The Day of Atonement is arguably the largest annual demonstration of Jewish unity, when Jews pack synagogues to honor the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

After months of inflammatory rhetoric, Jews from opposing camps will put aside their differences on Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement is arguably the largest annual demonstration of Jewish unity, when Jews pack synagogues throughout Israel and the Diaspora, joining family, friends, and strangers in honoring the most important day in the Jewish calendar.

The vidui or confession prayer, uttered several times during the evening service and throughout services the following day, is an exercise in breast beating, prefaced by the words ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi (we have been guilty, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have slandered).

This confession, which contains a broad litany of sins, is recited in plural form, meaning that even though individuals may be guilty of only some of the transgressions, as part of a family, a community, and of the Jewish people, they all confess to all of them.

It’s not certain whether people whose knowledge of Hebrew is limited, are aware of the enormity of the confession, but what is relevant is that they take upon themselves the responsibility for reciting it.


While the text of the confession recited on Yom Kippur includes misdirected actions performed both against God and against fellow beings, one of the most frequent sins against both is committed immediately upon the conclusion of the Neilah service.

Pedestrians cross at a crosswalk (credit: INGIMAGE)
Pedestrians cross at a crosswalk (credit: INGIMAGE)

Finding what habits to fix in the new year

After spending the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur asking to be inscribed in the Book of Life, congregants in many synagogues, when walking home after the final shofar blasts and resolutions for a better year, cross the road while the traffic light still shines red for pedestrians. Known as jay-walking, this is an increasingly common Israeli habit – almost like an ongoing game of Russian roulette. It’s bad enough when a lone adult does it, but it is unforgivable when someone wheeling a baby carriage with an infant inside crosses on a red light while talking on a mobile phone.

Now is the time for us to examine our habits and decide which of them we want to keep and which to relinquish.

Those of us who have joined demonstrations over the past year could examine whether, in addition to our dedication to the issues at hand, being part of a group doesn’t in some way provide a comfort zone for people craving some form of unity. This may well be, in part, compensation for the isolation that many suffered during the COVID pandemic.

There’s just a desperate need to be together with others and to fight for a common cause, regardless of whether or not one fully understands the issue. People who are honest with themselves may opt for a more positive reason to find a path to unity.


Family unity is something that people of all faiths can agree on theoretically, but not always in practice. Unfortunately, there are family feuds that continue during and after Yom Kippur, even when those involved can no longer remember the cause.

Many years ago, there was a universal family theater program in English that was invariably introduced by a male announcer stating in deep, dramatic tones: “The family that prays together, stays together. More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” The program premiered in New York in 1947 and was quickly taken up by radio stations in English-speaking countries. The brainchild of the Reverend Father Patrick Peyton, who, during World War II, promoted the importance of family strength and unity, it was initially a Catholic concept. When he sought to broadcast this principle, he wanted to include the Catholic ritual of the rosary, but broadcast networks explained that they could not focus on only one particular faith in a program devoted to universal family unity. Peyton decided to compromise and came up with the idea of Family Theater which would emphasize his message, with its only commercial being an appeal for family prayer without mentioning any specific religion.

Perhaps this year, more family feuds will become history and family unity will be the goal for the present and the future. And since the Jewish people are all one big family, despite the old joke about three opinions being held between two Jews, perhaps this year, in which we have seen the drama of democracy unfold before our very eyes, we will look to what we have in common, to what unites us, so that we can continue to develop our future in the Land of Israel, 120 years after we almost chose Uganda. 

‘What to keep and what to relinquish’

A short list of things we can do to be more considerate to other people

  • Not placing shopping trolleys and baby carriages in the aisle of the bus.
  • Not putting one’s feet on the seat of the bus, or allowing one’s children to do so.
  • Not walking in front of someone who is just about to take a photograph, especially when it is just as easy to walk behind them.
  • Not spitting on the sidewalk (if necessary spit in a drain on the side of the road).
  • Not jumping queues. This is a very strange habit and completely thoughtless.
  • Not riding bikes, motor-cycles, or electric scooters on the sidewalk intended for pedestrians.
  • Not picking one’s nose in public, another mindless action.
  • Not making false accusations before checking the facts.
  • Not smoking in areas in which smoking is forbidden.
  • Making sure to apologize when accidentally causing harm to someone else.
  • Not hogging food at a simcha.
  • Making sure to cover one’s mouth when yawning, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Not ignoring people who wish you Shabbat Shalom in the street.
  • Not ignoring people who greet you.
  • Not stopping to chat on the synagogue or theater steps when there are people behind you.
  • Not forgetting to say thank you to people who wait on you in shops and restaurants.
  • Not forgetting to make way for people with physical disabilities.
  • Not forgetting to step aside for anyone exiting an elevator or public transport.

And, most importantly:

  • Not crossing the road on a red light. The life you save may be your own.