The High Holy Days are here for Jackson Hole’s Jewish community, culminating in Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement, which starts at sundown Sunday.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. It give them a chance to reflect on what they have done wrong over the past 365 days and what they can do better in the coming year.
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, was observed last weekend, when Jews all around the world rang in the year 5781.
“The first message is, ‘Out with the old and in with the new,’” said Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn of Chabad Wyoming. “2020 was a tough year for many, many people in a lot of ways.”
The coronavirus pandemic, economic upheaval, massive wildfires, powerful hurricanes, sometimes violent protests, not to mention a deeply divided country preparing for a presidential election: Having a new year show up in the middle of all this chaos is a great opportunity to remember that the past doesn’t have to be the future, Mendelsohn said, and people can use it as a reset.
Josh Kleyman, a lay rabbi with the Jackson Hole Jewish Community, said his organization is moving most of its services online, with longtime Jewish Community guest Carl Levenson leading services and local musician Judd Grossman serving as chazzan.
The group also put together gift bags for its children last week, with a round challah bread (typical challah the rest of the year is long and braided) and a shofar, which is a horn, traditionally from a ram, blown to celebrate the new year.
“We wanted people to give younger kids an ability on how to connect to a virtual experience and have gifts from the community in this new year,” Kleyman said.
Traditionally, Jewish families also may construct a sukkah — a temporary hut or booth for eating, praying and even sleeping throughout the High Holy Days — in their yard. The symbolic shelter alludes to how God provided for the Israelites during their 40 years wandering the desert after escaping Egyptian slavery.
To help families follow that tradition the Jewish Community created a guide on how to build a sukkah — some details of which are strictly prescribed by Jewish law and code — and launched a design competition, with the winners getting a catered meal for six.
The community’s traditional ceremony after Yom Kippur has for years been held at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where children enter with candles at sundown.
“I’m missing that already,” Kleyman said, noting that this year’s service will be online.
Yom Kippur is marked by a full day of fasting, deep meditation and reflection.
The High Holy Days of Judaism include Rosh Hashana and the 10-day period between it and Yom Kippur. Kleyman said this is an important period “when we get to do our work.”
“We have the opportunity to really start fresh,” he said.
That involves prayer, internal work on how to improve ourselves and external work on asking for forgiveness.
“It all builds and builds toward Yom Kippur and how can we return to our best selves,” he said. “Where do we want to be headed as a people and as a community in the world?”
Sundown on Sunday marks the start of Yom Kippur with in-person services for Chabad Wyoming and online services for the Jackson Hole Jewish Community.