Kent State students celebrate day of atonement with Yom Kippur

Haley Keding

For Mimi Raizen, Yom Kippur was the day everything stopped.

Raizen, a sophomore theater performance major, celebrated Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, abroad in Israel last year.

Raizen traveled with Nativ, a yearlong study abroad educational program. She remembered walking downtown with her friends and seeing a normally busy intersection with no traffic. 

“It was just dead,” Raizen said.

In previous years, Nativ students sat in the middle of empty streets and sang songs from Jewish song packets.

“We decided we were going to uphold the tradition,” Raizen said.

As Raizen and her friends sang in the street, people stopped and temporarily joined their impromptu chorus.

“You can’t even begin to describe the feeling of that,” Raizen said.

American Jewish communities also appreciate the calm holiday and spend Yom Kippur together in deep remembrance.

“Not even from a religious standpoint, but from a personal standpoint, it allows me to reflect on my past year,” junior public health major Nick Hall said.

Hall said he especially enjoys Yom Kippur services.

“Being together as a community and doing that together is a really powerful gesture,” Hall said. “It gets you into that mood and allows you to feel spiritual and connected.

Because the holiday begins Friday night, many Jewish students plan to celebrate at home. For Hall, home is Beth El in Akron. He said he looks forward to spending Yom Kippur with his family in a “low key” environment.

Junior psychology major Natalie Schafer said that, in her synagogue, members recognize specific practices, such as wearing simple clothing to services.

“You are not trying to distract others from their process of repentance,” Schafer said.

Another important tradition of Yom Kippur is the 24-hour fast, a practice that requires participants to abstain from food for a certain amount of time.

“We fast so there are literally no distractions that are taking away from our self-reflection,” Schafer said.

Hall said he values the fast most of all the Yom Kippur practices.

“It really allows you to dive into what you’re doing,” Hall said. “Yom Kippur is when you are the absolute closest to God.”

According to tradition, when Yom Kippur ends, God closes the Book of Life and decides everyone’s fate for the coming year, and at Neilah, the final service of the day, God closes the gates of heaven for the year. 

Hall has a tradition of breaking the fast in community when Yom Kippur ends. He and his friends are careful to limit their portions

“You’ve gone through this period where you are depriving yourself of something and the whole idea isn’t to stuff your face,” Hall said. “You want to let the holiday linger.”

Contact Haley Keding at [email protected].