Yom Kippur: The American Olim Experience


On Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Hebrew calendar, the Jews ask for forgiveness for their sins of the past year. It is a day reserved for personal reflection and a time when Jews seek to make changes in all aspects of their lives.

On this gloomy day, Jews tend to go to synagogues in large numbers. There are many religious customs and traditions that symbolize the importance of the holy day like fasting.

There are different ways for Jews in Israel as well as in the Diaspora to celebrate this powerful day. In Israel, the tradition of some secular Jews has long been to cycle the empty streets and highways, taking advantage of the one day of the year when cars are practically officially banned.

While people practice differently, religious Jews and some secular Jews spend much of the day immersed in the synagogue (like bread thrown into a body of water to observe the ritual of Tashlich) in penitential prayer for their sins from last year .

For the new American Olim who did aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the holiday is no less significant, and while life in Israel – including religious life – can sometimes seem strange, the coat on which Yom Kippur is placed represents , a familiar and comforting aspect that enables Olim to feel at home in the Jewish state on his holiest days.

GABBI GOLSHIRAZIAN, 27, grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Jewish-Iranian parents who immigrated to the United States after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and then came to Israel in October 2019 as part of the MASA program, a project initiated by the office of Prime Minister and The. Jewish Agency for Israel was founded. He had been in a relationship with an Israeli woman – now his fiancée – for a number of years and had considered doing aliyah.

Oleh Gabbi Golshirazian admits that for him Judaism means “more about culture and traditions than about going to the synagogue”. (Credit: courtesy)

Under the guidance of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Golshirazian enrolled in the MASA internship program to test the waters before committing to the aliyah process. After he finished his program, the first wave of coronavirus had already hit Israel, stalling the entire nation and making the decision whether to make aliyah easy. “It felt right … I knew I wanted to stay here,” he said The Jerusalem Post.

Golshirazian settled in central Tel Aviv, but during the pandemic, time was divided between the now dormant capital of culture of the Jewish state and the moshav of his fiancée’s parents, where he spent quiet days providing an extra pair of hands on the family farm to deliver.

For Golshirazian, who grew up, Judaism was “more about culture and traditions than about the synagogue”. local conservative synagogue a few days a week.

“We kept kosher at home,” he said, noting that “we would go on Shabbat” to highlight his secular upbringing, which was built on a strong foundation and connection with Judaism.

Regarding Yom Kippur, growing up, Golshirazian said that he and his family took the holidays very seriously, fasted, and spent the day praying “forever” in the synagogue. Although raised in a largely secular environment, he was taught the meaning and significance of Yom Kippur from an early age and was something he carried with him into adulthood and the beginning of his new life in Israel.

Regarding the meaning and significance of the day, he said, “Yom Kippur has always been about asking forgiveness for the sins I have committed against God’s will. As I got a bit older and understood more about the laws and traditions, I expanded my beliefs about it to acknowledge my senior year and realize that I may have done wrong to upset my family, friends, or myself, and to understand what it could have been and how I can change that for the coming year. “

JENNIFER DURETZ PELED made aliyah in July with her Israeli husband Matan and their eight-year-old twin boys from Wellington, Florida. When she spoke to the Post last month, the family was living in a sublet in Haifa but was considering moving to central Israel.

    After doing aliyah, Jennifer Duretz Peled is eager to watch her first Yom Kippur in Israel, where she can spend quality time with her family.  (Credit: courtesy) After doing aliyah, Jennifer Duretz Peled is eager to watch her first Yom Kippur in Israel, where she can spend quality time with her family. (Credit: courtesy)

Surrounded by a strong and secular Jewish community, Duretz Peled grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where “all were Jews,” and attended Hebrew school classes three days a week and spent every summer in a Jewish camp. “Our life was very Jewish,” as she put it.

In the early 2000s, while on a trip to Israel for birthright, the idea of ​​becoming a cantor was born; She was in the middle of a graduate program at the San Francisco Conservatory for Music studying opera when another traveler suggested the idea because it united her love and passion for Judaism and music.

She immediately dropped out and enrolled at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside of Philadelphia to become a cantor. She worked in various congregations, most recently in Wellington for five years before moving to Israel with her family. It was “difficult to leave Wellington,” she recalls, where she was an integral part of the community as the cantor of a reform synagogue. It was really difficult to tell her synagogue that she was leaving for Israel.

“I gave them six months notice,” she said, adding that they were a “great, sweet, sweet community.”

Unsurprisingly, her work as a cantor adds an extra layer to her Yom Kippur experience. While it is special and meaningful, it means that she was not with her husband – the rabbi at the local Conservative synagogue – and her children, but was in the Bima service. Being a cantor during the Holy Days “is often exhausting, but always rewarding,” she commented. “It’s something very special.”

On this Yom Kippur, their first in Israel, it will certainly be different for Duretz, Peled and their family. She and her husband are weighing their offers from various reformist / conservative communities and are unsure of “what we are going to do this year”, both “professionally and personally”. This year, as she and her family get used to life in the Holy Land, Yom Kippur offers her a unique opportunity to spend time with family.

“I have to focus on my children, my family and myself,” she said earlier this year.

Regardless of where she is on this Yom Kippur or who she is, like every year she will recite the Lamentations: “Return us, O God, to yourself and let us come back; Renew our old days! ”And the singing serves as a“ reminder to take a breath. To try to change my current way of thinking, ”she said. “Yom Kippur offers me a sacred space and time to reflect on everything that is sacred and important in my life.”

JOSH FRIEDMAN did aliyah in late July, just a week before talking to him post, from Philadelphia with his wife and three children – two boys and one girl. He and his family have found a home in Ramat Beit Shemesh and have so far enjoyed the hospitable community there very much. He starts working at Yeshivat Mevaseret in Mevaseret Zion and his wife, a dentist, opens her own practice in the Beit Shemesh area.

    Josh Freidman's move to Israel in July is part of his Josh Freidman’s move to Israel in July is part of his “journey to develop a passion for Judaism and a connection with the land”. (Credit: courtesy)

As a teenager, Friedman attended a Jewish day school and “grew up always associated with Orthodoxy, but not always Orthodox.” Although he was not always fully attentive, he was surrounded by religious friends and always enjoyed “the intellectual persecution of the Torah”. For Friedman, Judaism became “a serious passion” when he came to Israel after high school to study at Yeshivat Sha’alvim outside Modi’in. His two years at Yeshiva “led me on a path of passion for Judaism and a connection to the Land of Israel … that made us return,” he explained.

Before moving to Israel, Friedman was a rabbi and teacher in Judaic studies in Philadelphia. He and his wife have come and visited Israel every few years for the past decade, and found that there was a sense of “guilt and missing” every time they left. The couple had long imagined taking this big step and moving to Israel. The process towards Aliyah was a process of “constant growth” but the global health pandemic caused by the coronavirus helped make the choice obvious.

As Friedman and his family prepare to celebrate their first Yom Kippur as Olim, he wants to convey the traditions of Yom Kippur to his family. Another focus this year is avoiding the “big mistake of holding on to our mistakes” from last year, which “prevents the opportunity to rebuild ourselves,” and this message has additional relevance as he and his Family their new life in the Jewish state.

“The belief that God will forgive me the sins of the past and if I forgive myself … then I can start over.”

For Jews everywhere, despite different experiences, traditions, and degrees of compliance, the enormity and power of Yom Kippur to enable personal reflection and personal growth unites all Jews, especially for Olim, who is starting a new chapter in their lives. 

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