Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest and most somber day, begins at sundown today. The observant fast and seek forgiveness for their sins.
Yom Kippur concludes at sundown Saturday, ending the 10-day period on the Jewish calendar known as Days of Teshuvah, which is variously translated as repentance, return and change. Many Jews fast on Yom Kippur and spend much of the time in synagogues.
According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur is the day Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of commandment tablets and announced God's pardon to people for worshipping a golden calf.
Observant Jews believe that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the Book of Life during the period of the High Holy Days, the 10-day period between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur.
For that reason, the traditional greeting among Jews on Yom Kippur is Gmar Chatima Tova, which is shorthand for "May your name be written in the good book."
Yom Kippur services begin with the Kol Nidre, an ancient prayer that literally means "all vows" or "all promises." The last service of the day ends with the sounding of a ram's horn called a shofar.
"Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, a day of forgiving and healing," Rabbi David Baron of the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts told City News Service.
"To me, some of the best ways of doing that is by hearing the stories of people who have risked and sacrificed and given to others and have learned to forgive in their own lives."
The speakers at the congregation's Kol Nidre service tonight at the Saban Theatre will be Shlomo Molla, the first Ethiopian member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, who was named in August as its deputy speaker; Benny Vaknin, the mayor of Ashkelon, Israel; and author Rachel Ehrenfeld.
Molla will discuss his escape on foot from Ethiopia, which Baron called "a modern-day Exodus miracle."
Ashkelon is the closest major Israeli city to the Gaza Strip and a frequent target of missiles. Its residents are "an example of surviving an onslaught," Baron said.
"For me, Yom Kippur is a lot about how you survive and how you live in spite of the problems you confront," Baron said. Vaknin "is coming with greetings from the people of that city to say, `We are surviving this and your support and encouragement helps us get through the day."'
Ehrenfeld was the target of a lawsuit in England by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz after her book "Funding Evil" disclosed the routing of his money to the al-Qaida terror network.
Ehrenfeld then spearheaded the passage of New York's "Rachel's Law" and similar federal legislation, barring enforcement of foreign libel judgements that do not meet with American constitutional standards of due process and First Amendment protections.
"She stood up to very wealthy interests that were much richer than her and more powerful than her," Baron said. "She is an example of real heroism."
In his Yom Kippur message, Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, encouraged the region's Jews to "invest your time, energy and skills in a project to make your corner of the world a better place."
"Visit an elderly, homebound neighbor," Diamond said. "Tutor a child who is struggling in school. Clean up a local park. Teach someone to read. Serve meals to people who are housebound."