— by Dena Wimpfheimer
Even as Israel faces criticism that society is becoming increasingly polarized between the religious and secular populations, this Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of secular Israelis will join in prayer services all around the country as part of the Tzohar Praying Together on Yom Kippur initiative.
More than two thirds of Israelis observe the sanctity of the High Holy Day, yet many secular Israelis choose to stay home since they do not belong to a synagogue or have a place to pray. As part of its mission to bridge the gap between religious and secular, Tzohar will be organizing close to 200 free explanatory Yom Kippur services in Kibbutizim, Moshavim and Cultural Centers across the country – Sefardi and Ashkenazi.
More after the jump.
“Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to religious practice and show them that there are many ways to embrace religion and become spiritually involved with one’s Judaism,” said Rabbi David Stav the Chairman of Tzohar. “We know that despite being classified as secular, this segment of Israeli society often has a burning desire to demonstrate their love for Jewish tradition and we strongly believe that this effort will help feel closer to their identity as proud Jews.”
In its 12th year, the Praying Together program is bigger than ever, reaching more communities and participants than ever before. Participants are provided with a special Machzor Yom Kippur and detailed handout explaining the rituals, meaning of the prayers and process (when to stand, when to bow, etc.) that takes place during the reverent day to ensure it is a meaningful and encompassing experience for all.
“There are many Israelis like me who do not label themselves religious, but are proud Jews,” says Yoav of Moshav Eshtaol. “Our family has been coming to this program for several years now and really appreciate the unifying Jewish experience.”
It is the success of initiatives such as this one that have inspired Tzohar to undertake their Tzohar Communities Program. As opposed to the standard in North America , most Israelis are not members in any synagogue and do not have a relationship with religious community leaders. By placing qualified Rabbinical leaders at the forefront of communities around Israel, the Tzohar program works to establish the synagogue as a community center where the religious and non-religious are openly accepted and feel welcome.