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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

Closely following Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year where we celebrate and welcome in a sweet new year, is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and probably the day that most Jewish people will be able to tell you about. This year it starts at sundown on Sunday 24th September 2023 and ends over 25 hours later, on Monday 25th September 2023.


How is it celebrated?

It’s a day where we return to the very basic ways of living and abstain with a goal of praying for forgiveness and being purified of any sins from the previous year. We don’t eat or drink anything for nearly 26 hours and spend the day praying in synagogue. There are other rules that, dependent on how religious you are, will be observed, from not wearing leather shoes to not applying body lotion.

Whilst there is an undercurrent of solemnity, it is a spiritual day for reflection, introspection and, ultimately, joy. You can’t reflect on the past without also feeling hopeful for a positive future year ahead.

It’s also a time where we’re encouraged to strip back to our barest and most basic version of ourselves. Day to day, we’re preoccupied with work, how we look, what we wear, what we’re eating, when we’re next seeing our friends; Yom Kippur is one day where we’re in a safe place to peel back the layers and return to our core self. It’s a time of reducing the noise and distractions around us to focus purely on self-awareness.


What Yom Kippur means to me

For me, I find it a really special and unique time, where you’re encouraged to do nothing but sit with your thoughts, reflect on the year behind you and consider the past without regret but taking learnings forward. It’s so rare nowadays to have protected time, completely devoid of the distractions of modern life, and it’s something I’ve come to treasure – hunger from a full day’s fasting aside.

Ultimately, as with most other Jewish holidays, the day is bookended by two family meals, starting the fast and ending the fast. We close out the day with a light meal and return back to reality, and everyone will break the fast with their own traditions. For my family, it’s a piece of honey cake leftover from Rosh Hashanah, to continue symbolising a sweet new year at every point we can (and it’s delicious!).


Authored by Jessie Galman