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The Real Meaning of Yom Kippur

It happens every year, without fail. Someone not of Jewish descent calls me on the phone and cheerfully wishes me a "Happy Yom Kippur."

Inwardly, I cringe at the gesture. Outwardly, I usually mumble some kind of awkward acknowledgement and quickly change the subject.

I understand that the person means well, but it bothers me that they don't have a better understanding of Jewish customs.

You see, Yom Kippur is not a "happy" holiday. Rather, it is a day of atonement, where Jews repent for sins committed during the past year and offer a special prayer to honor loved ones who have passed away.

 midlife  

Perhaps the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath. Besides not working and attending the synagogue all day, one has to refrain from eating and drinking (even water). Even Jews who do not observe any other Jewish customs usually observe the traditions on this sacred day.

Every religion has its own holidays. And in our increasingly diverse culture, it can be hard to keep up with them all. But as friends and neighbors, we owe it to each other to at least find out what a particular holiday means prior to wishing our friends or loved ones a "Happy Occasion" that may or may not be appropriate.

I'm not suggesting that we need to become experts in each other's religions. But a little forethought and consideration can eliminate the embarrassment and hurt feelings that often occur when someone gives a well-intentioned but misguided greeting.

All the best,

P.S. – If you recently received an inappropriate greeting, we would like to hear how you handled it. Knowledge is power, your story just might save someone an embarrassing moment.



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cynthia Schmidt wrote Oct 7, 2008
    • Yana, my first husband is Jewish; I was raised Catholic. I have to say that in the 12 years we were together, I learned so much and really embraced the customs followed in his family.  

      Yom Kippur was a day we used to quietly reflect on the previous year’s behavior and gave us an opportunity to right the wrongs we’d commited either inadvertently or intentionally. It was such a cleansing and healing time.

      Cynthia



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Deb Link wrote Oct 7, 2008
    • Thanks Yana for the info.  I didn’t know much about this “holiday“.  I used to work with/for a man of Jewish faith.  At Christmas time he would wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  I always handed out Christmas cards and I gave him a “Happy Holidays” card.  One of my co-workers thought it was inappropriate.  I didn’t want to leave him out.  He thanked me for the card.  Do you feel it was inappropriate?



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Deb Link wrote Oct 7, 2008
    • Thanks annie123.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Yana Berlin wrote Oct 7, 2008
    • Debra,  

      You can never go wrong with a card with Happy Holidays, in the last ten years I have not bought anything else, just in case....but that is during the Christmas Season, that can be applied to Chanukah, Ramadan (when the lunar calendar comes around to it), Kwanza and a for the atheist Happy New Year.

      Yom Kippur is a very special day, and I have to say that even many Jewish people themselves say Happy Yom Kippur, simply because they just don’t know the real meaning. When someone says Happy Yom Kippur and later finds out what this day is all about they feel bad...that’s why I decided to write this blog.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Momof6 wrote Oct 8, 2008
    • You could always say Happy New Year, since its only a few the week before Yom Kippur.

      Actually it is customary to say “May you be inscribed in the Book Of Life” .



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Cheryl Phillips wrote Oct 8, 2008
    • This is a great post. A good friend of mine is Jewish and I made it a point years ago to ind out what the holidays meant. Avoids a lot of embarrassment for sure........

      Thanks, Yana!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Shay Vaughn wrote Oct 14, 2008
    • My boss is Jewish, though he is the owner/operator of a Christian-based fast food chain (hint: “Eat more Chicken“).  I have to admit, I’m clueless in these Jewish Holiday matters, thanks for enlightening me!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Martinilush wrote Jan 23, 2009
    • I was raised Jewish and Christian (long family story), and this kind of thing happened to me all the time. I didn’t get upset by it though. I guess I just took it in the spirit that it was intended, that someone was trying to be kind to me and was thinking of me. I always appreciated the thought! estatic



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