The day that began for Salt Lake City Jews at sundown Sept. 20 and ended the evening of Sept. 21 is called Shabbat Shabbaton - a sabbath of sabbaths. The holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur is a day structured around its services.
"Yom Kippur is like no other day in the Jewish year," cantor Laurence D. Loeb said. "There are other fast days and other holy days, but no other day combines those elements as this holy day does. It is felt deeply by even those Jews who do not consider themselves pious. Many who don't come all year will spend the entire day of Yom Kippur in the synagogue."Fasting begins before sundown on the ninth of the high holy days that started with Rosh Hashana. Yom Kippur began Tuesday evening at 7:15 p.m. with Kol Nidrei, the evening service named after its opening prayer.
Loeb describes the event this way: "For all the beauty of the music, the words themselves are simply a legal formula. Kol Neidrei is not a prayer, not a theological statement but an invalidating of oaths made to God.
"We make commitments and promises to God with expectations or hopes of keeping those vows. Very often we will not be able live up to them, and God knows this. The text basically says those commitments made in haste, error, or even with sincere intention, are not binding."
A court of at least three people holding the sacred Torah scrolls must be formed in order to effect this legal procedure. Tuesday evening, eight members of the Kol Ami congregation held the scrolls while Loeb sang Kol Neidrei. To be selected for such service is considered an honor.
"The main musical theme is one of the few we can date - we believe it is a Sephardic cantillation from the 9th century," Loeb said. While chairing the department of anthropology at the University of Utah, Loeb has received many musical degrees. He holds a bachelor's degree in music and cantorial and Bachelor of Sacred Music degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He remains its youngest graduate, starting his studies when he was just 16.
"This will be the first year in a long time that I haven't sung Kol Nidrei as a duet with my daughter Roni, who is in Israel studying at Hebrew University," Loeb said.
Rabbi Frederick Wenger conducted Tuesday evening services that included Ma'ariv, and the prayer, avinu malkeinu. The evening services began the period of fasting and prayer that continued through Wednesday, and concluded with Neilah, which refers to the closing of the gates of heaven, and may at one time have been symbolic of the closing of the temple gates.
Wednesday evening, the ten-day period of the High Holy Days was brought to a close with the sounding of the shofar, the ram's horn, which is the central symbol of the holidays. Loeb was asked by congregation member Max Cowan to bring back a shofar from Israel. The ram's horn he personally selected came from Ethiopia.
"Whatever the ram's horn originally stood for," Loeb said, "it is a marvelous focal point for the holidays."
The evocative blasts from the shofar suggest the journey from sin to repentance and from death to life. The shofar was blown every 50 years on Yom Kippur in biblical times to signal the freedom of slaves and the revision of all land to its original owners. The symbolism of starting over in a new year made the wishes and greetings exchanged during the High Holy Days especially meaningful.