Three Jews filming for the Miss America Beauty Pageant found themselves stranded on this island in the Pacific Ocean as Yom Kippur set in. Far from their respective vibrant Jewish communities in Israel and Los Angeles, they turned to Chabad and found Rabbi Yitzchok and Perl Krasnjanski and 125 Jews at the Hawaii Monarch Hotel for Yom Kippur services. “After such a difficult year, people need to connect in a meaningful way,” says Rabbi Krasnjanski.
People readily warm to Jewish traditions of candle lighting, Purim celebrations and dancing on Simchat Torah. But the intensity and seriousness of a 26-hour fast spent entirely in prayer, calls for a different kind of commitment. They may be unaffiliated and describe themselves as “secular,” but the unlikely circumstances under which thousands of Jews worldwide gravitated to observe this highest of holy days proves a Jewish pluck that is as mysterious as it is inspiring.
Situated in the heart of Scandinavia and equidistant from major cities in Norway, Finland and Denmark, Goteberg is home to about 3500 Jews, mostly businesspeople and professionals. People drove five hours from Stockholm and over three hours from Copenhagen to participate in Kapparot, an ancient tradition where fowl become symbolic atonement in preparation for Yom Kippur, and its meat is donated to the poor.
“People expressed a real earnest desire to prepare for Yom Kippur the right way,” says Leah Namdar, who with her husband Alexander, has been serving the Jewish communities of Goteberg and its surrounding areas for eleven years. “They weren’t looking for ‘feel-good’ rituals, but really wanted to know how to do things in accordance with Jewish law.”
On the northern coast of South America, in a country undergoing tremendous political turmoil, 800 people attended Yom Kippur services held by Chabad of Venezuela. In Altamira, 350 people joined Rabbis Moshe Perman and Dovid Rosenbleum for Ashkenazic services; 200 attended simultaneous Sefardic services led by Rabbi Yitzchok Chocron; 150 joined Rabbi Yosef Slavin at Chabad of S. Bernadino.
And in Alaska, where the fast lasted until 9:24, people flew to Anchorage from the northern city of Fairbanks, others from Bethel on Alaska’s west coast. Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, Chabad-Lubavitch representative to Alaska, led services at the Resident Inn by Marriott.
Yom Kippur here was one of the longest days anywhere, notes Rabbi Greenberg. “It’s certainly a hard and very intense day, but it was uplifting to be part of a community of 200 people on the last frontier who fasted through to the end,” he says.