‘It’s really sad’: Jewish holy day Yom Kippur to be observed at home
At sunset on Wednesday, the Jewish community starts the 25-hour observance of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.
It’s a day of fasting, atoning for sins and abstaining from physical pleasures.
Anton Block with his wife Lana and children Jess, 16, Danny, 14 and Jake, 9.Credit:Joe Armao
But for the second consecutive year, Jewish Melburnians cannot gather en masse at synagogues, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and Anton Block, of Malvern East, said it was very sad.
“The fact that we’re in the same position this year is very disappointing and very upsetting, and it’s a struggle to think how we can make the day as meaningful as it usually is,” he said.
“Last year we thought, ‘It’ll just be this one-time thing and, please God, next year we’ll all be able to be in the synagogue again and be able to celebrate as a family, a congregation and a community’.”
But it was not to be. Mr Block, 49, said his synagogue, the St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, which is modern Orthodox, is not live-streaming services.
On Yom Kippur before the pandemic, he would go to synagogue for a 90-minute service in the evening and return for most of the next day.
This year, he and his wife, Lana, and their children Jess, 16, Danny 14, and Jake 9 will go for walks, read prayers, “and try and give each other a sense of the occasion by talking through reflections and blessings,” Mr Block said.
“And just rest, because there’s nothing much else we can do”.
Also prohibited is having extended family and friends present for the feast to “break the fast” after sunset at the end of Yom Kippur.
Traditional foods the Blocks enjoy include pickled herrings on sweet biscuits, cold boiled fish with thousand island dressing and cinnamon babke, or yeast cake.
Mr Block said going to the synagogue on Yom Kippur “has always been important for me and for my family”. However, Yom Kippur was still a time to welcome the New [Jewish] Year with a clean slate and to seek forgiveness “not just from God but from others, to think about things you could have done better”.
Lana Block said while it will be nice to have quiet time with family, she will dearly miss the congregation.
“It’s really sad not to be immersed in the people around you in the singing, the choir, the rabbi and in his sermon, which is always very touching and uplifting and gives you time to think about how you want to move forward in the next year,” she said.
Mr Block said lockdowns were “a necessary evil”.
“Ultimately it is critical that everyone gets vaccinated as soon as possible so we can get back to living life,” he said.
”My feeling is that we are all completely fatigued from the lockdown and to that extent it’s no longer having the desired effect.”
There are more than 40,000 Jewish people in Melbourne. This week, the state government denied a request by leaders of Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox community for small prayer groups to be allowed to meet for Yom Kippur.
Daniel Aghion, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, said having to isolate at home and not being able to go to synagogues or to extended family gatherings this Yom Kippur would be hard, particularly for the elderly, and those who live alone.
“But it is a necessary restriction to protect ourselves from COVID,” Mr Aghion said.
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