'Judaism for Everyone' hopes to draw 100,000

Programs will be held in 320 locations, ranging from traditional prayer services to poetry events.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
September 20, 2007 23:13
3 minute read.
disengagement man prays next to fence 88

disengagement, prayer 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The Judaism for Everyone project hopes to attract 100,000 people to its Yom Kippur events this year. That would be an astronomical increase for the program, which tries to offer meaningful Yom Kippur observance for the millions of Israelis who will not be spending Judaism's holiest day in synagogue. Eight years ago, then-minister of Diaspora affairs Michael Melchior founded the project because of "a feeling that only some of the public, an important and wonderful part of it, but still just a part, was present on Yom Kippur. "As a child, Yom Kippur was the day I could barely sit in synagogue, because it was so crowded. There was a feeling that on this day everyone is there, all Am Yisrael [the nation of Israel], and that was the meaning of the day for me." However after the Denmark-born Melchior made aliya in 1986, he said, "I had the feeling that this wasn't true in Israel." So, as minister in 1999, he launched the Judaism for Everyone project to create a space in which secular and religious Israelis could both interact with Jewish tradition. "There is a feeling in the prayers of that day that we pray almost entirely about person-to-person things," he said. "These are not prayers about failing to lay tefillin [phylacteries] daily or failing to pray three times a day. On the holiest day, it's about our fellow people. It's a day when we pray with criminals, because at the end of the day we are all criminals." In its first year, the program held Yom Kippur events, including discussions about the meaning of the day, forgiveness and Jewish identity, in eight community centers and attracted a few hundred participants. This year, programs will be held in 230 locations with some 100,000 participants in kibbutzim, small periphery towns and large cities alike, ranging from traditional but "user-friendly" prayer services to straightforward dialogues on secular-religious relations to poetry events. The program's support has also expanded. It is now a partnership of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the Yachad organization that trains many of the program staff, the Community Centers Corporation, the Tzohar rabbinic organization, Amiel, the Education Ministry, the UJA and more. "The Jewish holidays belong to us all," said current Diaspora Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, whose ministry funds a large part of the initiative, "and this program creates a common cultural space in which everyone is respected. It's carried out with a perspective that invites and includes." According to Herzog, the program is part of a broader effort. "We intend to focus the country's 60th anniversary celebrations [next May] on bringing people together and giving expression to a multi-faceted Judaism," he said. The events will be held at the following hours: Friday night's Kol Nidrei prayers will be held at 5 p.m.; Saturday morning prayers will be held at 8:30; and Saturday evening's Ne'ila service will start at 5. Locations, including addresses and contact information, can be found by phoning (03) 606-6440 or at www.byachad.org.il. Special machzorim, or High Holy Day prayer books, were created for the program, and will be distributed at the events or can be downloaded on-line. How can Melchior, an Orthodox rabbi ordained at Jerusalem's Yeshivat Hakotel, create and endorse a Yom Kippur celebration outside the synagogue framework? "We understood that you can't attract these people to the synagogue, because for some it's become a place that represents division. They don't feel comfortable or at home there. As I say about the Torah - if it isn't for everyone, it isn't for anyone. It's the same for Yom Kippur. For many it's just bicycle day. I like bicycles - I'm the head of the Knesset environment lobby - but this can't be the central message of this special day."

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