On Yom Kippur morning, we come to the synagogue for the first service, the Shakharit or morning prayer. It is followed by a service for which many people come to synagogue even if they do not come for anything else – the Yizkor or memorial service. We recall our departed loved ones and resolve to donate to charity in their memory. Some congregants whose parents are still alive exit the sanctuary at this time out of superstition. Some congregations hold their annual appeals for funds at this time (others do it at the Kol Nidrei service).
The main focus of the Mussaf or additional service is the Avodah, a blow-by-blow description of the ceremonies performed by the High
Priest in the Temple on Yom Kippur. It includes the story of the proverbial scapegoat that was sent alive into the wilderness, as well as vivid descriptions of the sacrifices and prayers offered.
The Minkhah or afternoon service, unlike that of most holidays, contains a Torah reading and haftarah or prophetic portion. The latter is that perennial children’s favourite, the Book of Jonah. The story of a man who tries in vain to run away from his destiny as a prophet (and ends up in the belly of a fish, not a whale) contains many lessons that pertain to Yom Kippur – including the important one that repentance is open to anyone (including the people of Nineveh, who fasted and begged for forgiveness and were spared, much to Jonah’s annoyance).
The closing service of Yom Kippur is called Neilah, which literally means locking. The Gates of Heaven are slowly closing, but we are confident that our prayers have been heard. The Holy Ark remains open for the entire time, and all who are physically able stand throughout the service. At the end of it, the congregation joins the chazzan or leader in affirming G-d’s sovereignty, and the shofar blasts one long, single note.
After a quick evening service and Havdallah, we join together in a festive break-fast meal.