In the warm glow of candlelight, a host of followers came to the Lubavitch Jewish Center Wednesday one by one to pray and ask God to forgive their sins.
It was one of many services in Gainesville to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Surrounded by the sweet aroma of incense, the faithful then took a melodic journey through history, chanting the mystical words of the Kol Nidrei, a sacred Hebrew prayer that annuls all previous vows made with God. Women on one side, men on the other, they stood in solemn reverence beneath a white tent at the center in northwest Gainesville.
For some followers, the traditionalism of the Lubavitch congregation sets a spiritual mood that allows them to reconnect to their heritage and spirituality.
Ilana Rumbak, 48, said the service made her feel like she was home.
“Judaism is nothing without Yom Kippur,” said Rumbak, who attended the service with her daughters, Amy Rumbak, 20, and Carly Rumbak, 13. “What makes the service special here is that it’s very warm and traditional. They are still doing things the way they were done thousands of years ago.”
Amy Rumbak called Yom Kippur the “most important day” on the Jewish calendar. Jews fast, she said, because it’s a means of spiritual cleansing.
“Fasting shows God you are truly repentant of your sins,” she said.
Rabbi Berl Goldman led nearly 300 worshippers in prayer.
He explained that the separation of men and women during services is a means for the congregation to devote themselves solely to prayer and reflection without distraction. Many worshippers were dressed in white, symbolic of the Jewish belief that they are in an “angel-like” state on the holy day. Members greeted each other with, “Gmar chatima tova,” or “May it finish with a good seal.”
“When we greet each other with this saying, we’re wishing each other well as we put a final seal to our vows with God,” Goldman said.
Before sundown Wednesday, which is the official start of the Shabbat, or Sabbath, the girls and women were invited to light tiny candles. The women first light the candle, fan the warmth upwards, then cover their eyes and whisper a blessing.
“The candles represent the soul, hope and peace,” Goldman said. “The Jewish nation is one body, and tonight we’re praying for each other and for those who are not here.”
To repent for their sins, Jews are not allowed to eat, drink, wear leather-soled shoes or anoint themselves with cosmetics, deodorant or fragrances on the holiday.