City Weekend

Hong Kong’s Jewish community set to celebrate Yom Kippur

Followers will reflect upon their deeds in the past year and look to atone, repent and forgive on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 5:03pm

The Jewish community in Hong Kong will be celebrating Yom Kippur next week, the holiest day in Judaism.

Services for the event, also known as the Day of Atonement, will begin on the evening of October 11 with a candle lighting, which marks the beginning of a 25-hour fast.

This will be followed by the Kol Nidre, a prayer indicating the start of the evening service.

During this period, Jews will also refrain from working.

Services will then continue throughout the night until the end of the fast the following day on October 12.

Yom Kippur occurs every year on the 10th day of Tishri -–the seventh month of the Jewish year.

The central themes of Yom Kippur are atonement and repentance. “A person will think about what they did [in the past] year. ‘Did I do good? What did I do wrong?’ How they will improve themselves ... and society,” Netanel Meoded, Chief Rabbi of the Hechal Ezra Synagogue in Tsim Sha Tsui, said. “Fasting [allows you] to open your mind to think ... and try to elevate yourself to something else.”

Along with atonement, forgiveness is also an important part of Yom Kippur, Meoded said. “You cannot start to pray to God if you feel something to somebody like, ‘I love people but this guy I want to [do something to]’,” he said. “If you hate somebody ... you are a slave of your hatred.”

The Jewish community has been part of Hong Kong for nearly 160 years, with the first settlers emerging from Baghdad via India. They quickly established themselves as important businessmen in the early days of the British colony.

For Meoded, he never planned on moving to Hong Kong. He was told to go to the city by a fellow rabbi in 1995, and only had two days to get himself ready for the move. “For me it was difficult [moving to Hong Kong] because I didn’t have enough books. After one month they sent me two or three suitcases of books,” he said.

At the time, the Jewish community was small – numbering around 2,000 people. The population has now grown to an estimated 5,000 people.

In the mid-1990s, Jewish businessmen wanted to open a synagogue in Kowloon, as the only one at the time was the Ohel Leah Synagogue in the Mid-Levels.

Jewish tradition entails that on Shabbat, a weekly day of rest, no travel be taken other than by foot. The difficulty was obvious for Jews living outside of Hong Kong island as they could not cross the harbour by foot.

Through donations from the Jewish community, the Hechal Ezra Synagogue was set up in 1995. It includes a kosher restaurant and has over 900 members.