Millie Nelsen's reviewing the year, trying to remember whom she might have wronged in some fashion, no matter how tiny or inadvertent.
When she thinks of one, she asks for forgiveness. Then she sets the regret it caused her aside.Others of her faith are doing the same thing. For the 10 days following the Jewish new Year, Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of which ended Tuesday at sundown, observant Jews go through a period of introspection, reflection and repentance. The period will culminate at sundown on Tuesday, Sept. 29, when Yom Kippur begins. It is during that time that they seek to make amends, to mend fences and repair relationships with others.
It's a preparation for judgment by God.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the High Holy Days of the Jewish faith, according to Rabbi Frederick Wenger of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City. And during these very special days, even Jews who have strayed from regular participation in their synagogues return.
Yom Kippur translates to mean "Day of Atonement." And Jews around the world spend the day fasting and praying, as they atone for the sins they have committed against God.
"We use the 10 days to reflect and repent," said Nelsen, administrator for the Park City Jewish Center. "During that 10 days, we need to try to make amends to our fellowmen if we have done things. If personal relationships are very bad, we try to make them better.
"Yom Kippur is our time to atone for the sins of man to God," Nelsen said.
"This time is almost a benchmark by which a person is supposed to measure his or her life," Rabbi Wenger said. "You look back over the past year and begin the process of repentance and renewal over sins of the past year. But also over the lifetime leading up to it.
"After all, repentance is not a single action by which a person grows away from sin and moves towards righteousness."
A medieval Jewish philosopher claimed that repentance has occurred when an opportunity appears to commit the same transgression and the repentant sinner doesn't do it.
Besides fasting on Yom Kippur, Jews refrain from work and spend much of the holiday in the synagogue praying.
While Nelsen will talk to God privately about her conflicts with others, she will pray in community about the sins she perceives she committed against God. But she will join a larger community - the people in her synagogue - when she asks God's forgiveness.
The liturgy for the Yom Kippur service brings the greater community together in prayer: "For the sins which we have committed before you, please forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement."
The prayer in community says that "we are responsible, too," Wenger said. "Although a person bears primary responsibility (for his or her own sins), all who created a world in which the sins occur bears secondary responsibility."
And having sought forgiveness earnestly, "no one is supposed to wallow in one's sinful nature or mistakes or transgressions, but put them completely behind you and resolve to begin a new life," Rabbi Wenger added.
And after that, Nelsen said, a repentant Jew "hopes for the best. "
For it is based on the repentance that God will "make a decision for the next year for how a life will be," Nelsen said.
And there are lessons that must be learned, she said. Someone who has been unable to truly repent of sin and apologize to friends, loved ones and acquaintances for ways in which they've been hurt may "spend the whole next year saying you're sorry," Nelsen said.
Besides the communal prayers, the Yom Kippur service will feature the chanting of Kol Nidre, which translates "all vows" or "all commitments." Then participants will settle in for a retelling of the sacrificial rite that took place in the ancient temple of Jerusalem. And the service ends with the final sounding of the shofar (goat's horn) at the end of the day, signaling that it's time to break the fast, Wenger said. Which they will do, with some refreshments, as a faithful community.