Yom Kippur

People of faith continue to find new ways to worship during the COVID-19 pandemic, from outdoor, socially distant gatherings to online services and sermons on CD. Many in Cincinnati's Jewish community will mark the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur differently this year.

"We know one thing," says Shep Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, "they will not look anything like they've looked ever before."

Before Yom Kippur begins at sundown Tuesday, members of Uganda's Namutumba synagogue will sit down to a festive meal to prepare themselves physically and spiritually for the Day of Atonement.

This Jewish custom of the seuda hamafseket is new for this community, whose members have often entered the 25-hour-long fast on empty stomachs owing to drought and food shortages.

On Yom Kippur — which begins Friday night — over half of American Jews will fast (according to a recent survey). Whether in temple or at their workday desk, many will use the opportunity to reflect on their individual and collective actions over the past year, and their hope for the coming year. After the sun sets, they'll break their fast. And a lot of people will really break their fast.

The idea of giving up food for 25 hours for the Yom Kippur fast can seem daunting.

But for Shadrach Mugoya Levi, it's not so unusual. In his impoverished village of Magada, Uganda, there are many days when there's not enough food to eat.

"On Yom Kippur I am asking God to pardon me," Levi says of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. "On other days when I don't have food, I still pray. I pray that I get what to eat, so that I can continue to live."