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Ventura County Religion

Local Jews Reflecting on Lives as Yom Kippur Approaches

Holiday: The annual Day of Atonement is a time to make amends and start over with a clean slate.


A doctor contemplates how to create better relations with his patients and staff. The retired owner of an ice cream store ponders how she can reach out to family members she has lost touch with. A youth director plans to ask his wife for forgiveness.

Since sundown Sunday, Jews across Ventura County have been looking within themselves to consider the direction of their lives and make amends to those they may have wronged. All of this is in preparation for Yom Kippur, one of the most important Jewish holidays of the year, which begins at sundown Tuesday.

"The common theme is that they're reaching out to each other and getting their relationships in order before they go to see God, and that's a pretty sound Judaic tradition," said Rabbi Yakov Latowics of Chabad in Ventura.

The belief is that on Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement--God inscribes a person's fate for the following year based on the past year's conduct.

From the period that started Sunday evening on the eve of Rosh Hashana, or the Jewish new year, to Yom Kippur on Wednesday, people have the chance to set things right by asking for forgiveness and reflecting on their lives.

Jews can seek forgiveness from God. But they can't ask God to forgive them for hurting others. They must apologize themselves, rabbis say.

Milt Rothschild, a 69-year-old retired engineer in Ventura, half joked that he wants to make sure that he is inscribed in the "good book."

He has phoned or spoken in person to friends and acquaintances to apologize for losing his temper, not listening carefully or avoiding them.

"Hey, we're all human beings," Rothschild said. "We all have day-to-day problems. This is the time to say, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' "

In Thousand Oaks, 27-year-old Andrew Steier, a youth director at Temple Etz Chaim, apologized to his wife. Often, he said, it's common for people to hurt those that are closest to them.

"When the mean side of you needs to come out, the family is the first in the line of fire because they will forgive you," Steier said.

Even a rabbi has things to be sorry about, said Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of the Conejo, an Orthodox Jewish group.

"There are no saints among us," Bryski said. "Every one of us has done wrong. . . . We don't claim any exemption as a rabbi."

The High Holy Days are also a time to consider ways to improve oneself, think about the meaning of life and make new resolutions.

Jews sort through their priorities and try to measure whether they have met goals set the previous year.

This period touches on just about every aspect of life, said Aaron Fingerhut, a 68-year-old doctor who lives in Oxnard.

Fingerhut has thought about how to enhance his relationship with his wife, children and grandchildren, improve his work ethics in the office and strengthen relations with patients and office workers.

"It's a period of deep introspection and to review what you've done or haven't done," Fingerhut said.

Fern Kahn, a 65-year-old retired ice-cream store owner who lives in Ventura, said her goal is to be more tolerant of other people, reach out to those she has not talked to for some time and mend relations with friends and family.

After the personal reflections and apologies, Jews will come together Tuesday evening during Kol Nidre, the opening service of Yom Kippur. On Wednesday, many will attend services that last from morning until about 7:30 p.m., when they end a 24-hour fast.

The most powerful time to pray is during the final service, called Neilah. "It's the period when the gates of heaven are wide open to ask for health, wealth, success or children or whatever it is that they are begging God for," Bryski said.

Yom Kippur services end the same way the High Holy Days began, with the blowing of a ram's horn that sounds like the cry of a child.

When it's all done, Rothschild said, you say to yourself, "Geez, I hope I'm starting off with a clean slate."

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