Yom Kippur insights from area rabbis

By JOSH AXELROD, Exclusive to the CCJN

While the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, looms large, New Orleans rabbis indicated how their congregations will be commemorating the holiday that begins at sundown tonight. Also, known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur takes place on the 10th day of Tishrei on the Jewish calendar.

Mushka and Rabbi Leibel Lipskier of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Tulane, who served at the biggest Rosh Hashanah celebration this year. (Photo courtesy Leibel Lipskier)

Rabbi Leibel Lipskier, who serves students at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Tulane, is approaching the holy day ready to engage Tulane’s campus.

“Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year. It’s a day of introspection, a day to connect to the innermost part of your soul…at the core we all have a spark of God inside.”

He is preparing for the holiday by attending the mikvah (ritual bath), giving tzedakah, and studying relevant Torah passages that relate to Yom Kippur. Lipskier promises that students who want to get involved in any of these non-official Chabad events can always contact him. He hopes to make all students feel at home and make any ritual accessible on Tulane’s campus.

“At Chabad, at Tulane we’re a family; we’re not just an organization. We invite students to everything that we do, including (into) our personal space,” Lipskier said.

Also addressing non-traditional Jews, Lipskier hopes to provide a space for all through student services. The Kol Nidrei and Neilah services are both designed to be accessible to any denomination, including melodies, translations, and English explanations of the service.

Tulane Hillel Rabbi Yonah Schiller. (Photo by Alan Smason)

“We just want to encourage everybody to remember tomorrow as Yom Kippur, and get involved in any way that you find meaningful,” Lipskier said. “At Chabad our doors are always open.”

Rabbi Yonah Schiller, the Executive Director of Tulane Hillel, is offering the The Goldie and Morris Mintz Center for Jewish Life as a space to students to fill in whatever way they want.

The Tulane Hillel building will be hosting students who want to study, relax, or just hangout, taking time to reflect on the holiday. In an unusual offering, the center will be hosting yoga as a way to include the body in the spiritual process of introspection.

Schiller is attempting to create an inviting and amenable environment. There will be separate Reform and Conservative services held.

“We are not prescriptive in how we try to promote different holidays, rather we try to create space and relevancy…,” Schiller said.

Instead, Tulane Hillel is striving to open access points to students who are learning more about their Jewish identity. Schiller identifies that college can be a turbulent time in students’ lives when they are piecing together the meaningfulness of their religion.

The break fast is free to all students and will be provided by the kitchen of Rimon, the latest addition to the kosher restaurant scene run by Chef Daniel Esses. It has replaced the former Hillel’s Kitchen. .

Touro Synagogue Todd Silverman, one of three members of the clergy there. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Rabbi Todd Silverman, the rabbinic director of lifelong learning at the Touro Synagogue, has been prepping for Yom Kippur for days, thinking about repentance and holiness leading up to the holiday.

“Specifically for Yom Kippur, it is messaged that the time to make teshuvah (repentance) is not the night before or the day-of, but rather over the course of the entire Elul/High Holidays season,” Silverman said.

Silverman is able to achieve this through a process of introspection.

“I make mental lists, and then consider three questions for everyone I plan to reach out to:  what were the specific things I did that I am acknowledging…, what can I say to show my apology, and what can I do to show my intent to atone,” Silverman said.

He hopes that congregants will find the holiday meaningful and serious. Touro Synagogue hosts Kol Nidre, as well as morning services, Yizkor and Neila. Silverman uses Kol Nidre to activate a sense of awe and gravitas.

“Kol Nidre itself frames the entire experience for me,” Silverman said. “I find that the head-space and heart-space that I am in at the conclusion of Erev Yom Kippur is what carries throughout the rest of the holiday.”

Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin at Congregation Anshe Sfard aron hakodesh. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Congregation Anshe Sfard will be holding a traditional Orthodox service, commencing with Kol Nidrei on Friday night and continuing all day with the services made even more holy by the confluence with Shabbat. The congregation will be led by Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin in the prayer services, aided by chazan Daniel Feld, who has been with the synagogue to share the High Holidays for the past two years.

Originally from northern California, Feld now resides in Jersualem.

Rivkin reflected on the holiness and the importance of Yom Kippur in an email exchange with the CCJN. “For me, Yom Kippur is the day on which the people of Israel are closest to G-d,” he explained. “Rather than focus on this day being the ‘Day of Judgement,’ I prefer to think of it as a day on which we enjoy G-d’s complete embrace.”

Rivkin is enjoying the beginning of his second year as the spiritual leader of the Orthodox synagogue and his first after being named the permanent rabbi by the congregation. The forgiveness that happens on Yom Kippur is the result of the uncovering of the essential relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d, which overcomes any distance that may have been created through a sin that was committed.

“The forgiveness that happens on Yom Kippur is the result of the uncovering of the essential relationship between the Jewish nation and G-d, which overcomes any distance that may have been created through a sin that was committed,” he concluded.

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