Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, is one of the holiest days of the year for Jews. It marks the end of ten days of repentance that began on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), and offers the possibility of the remission of sins. It is celebrated on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. During this time, which lasts almost twenty-five hours, Jews abstain from food and drink, and as well as other pleasures such as wearing leather shoes or using lotion.
From the morning of the ninth of Tishrei, shops in Israel begin to close early. A few hours before sunset, the streets are practically deserted, as the people are inside eating and preparing to atone for their sins in the best possible way. Once Yom Kippur begins, the Jews dress in white (representing purification) and make their ways to the synagogues to pray. You can feel the solemnity of the feast by the silence that prevails over the city: no cars drive through the streets, and no airplanes fly through the country’s airspace. Only the occasional shout of a child biking through the streets breaks the silence.
During this time of penance, the Jews pray Psalm 27 in the morning and evening:
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The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh,
These my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear;
Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.
One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek:
To dwell in the LORD’s house all the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty, to visit his temple.
For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble,
He will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock.
Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side!
I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and chant praise to the LORD.
Hear my voice, LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.
“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek!
Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior!
Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.
LORD, show me your way; lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not abandon me to the desire of my foes;
malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.
I believe I shall see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!