With Pope Francis's arrival in Washington, DC on Sept. 22, a group of rabbis gathered in the capital on Tuesday afternoon to begin a Yom Kippur service unlike any other.
The venue for the service, which begins Tuesday evening and runs into Wednesday, is none other than the Lincoln Memorial, a "pre-eminent American symbol of our collective responsibility to work for freedom and democracy for all people with 'malice toward none, and charity for all,'" writes The Shalom Center on the event's website.
Yom Kippur is known as the day of atonement, when Jews ask for forgiveness for the wrongs they have committed. The DC service will focus specifically on climate change, according to Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who founded The Shalom Center and organized the event with Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
"We'll be atoning for the way in which the human race has treated the Earth, especially in the last hundred years or so," Waskow told The Huffington Post.
While the service is happening, Pope Francis will be making appearances around the city and gearing up for his address to Congress on Thursday, Sept. 24. The Catholic leader's visit comes at an important time for faith communities working on climate justice, Waskow said.
"The fact that the pope has spoken out so powerfully and so clearly [on climate change], and the fact that he is going to be speaking at the UN and Congress and meeting with the president, means that the work many of us have been doing for years is on the front page," Waskow told HuffPost.
Climate change is an issue close to Waskow's heart. The rabbi was one of seven Jewish leaders across denominations who wrote a statement on the climate crisis earlier this year to coincide with the release of the pope's encyclical on the environment. More than 400 rabbis had signed the declaration as of late August, according to the Shalom Center.
"We call for a new sense of eco-social justice – a tikkun olam that includes tikkun tevel, the healing of our planet," the statement read. "We urge those who have been focusing on social justice to address the climate crisis, and those who have been focusing on the climate crisis to address social justice."
The Yom Kippur service at Lincoln Memorial will weave in not only passages from this rabbinic statement on climate change, but also portions of the pope's encyclical, Waskow said.
"Just as we developed the rabbinic letter, many different religious and spiritual communities are developing out of their own theology and tradition positions and views which come out to be fairly similar," Waskow told HuffPost. The pope's unwavering emphasis on caring for creation "takes the work we're doing it and gives it front and center place in people's consciousness."
The service will include the traditional Kol Nidre prayer, sung at the start of Yom Kippur, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Wednesday's portion will begin at 10 a.m. and include Torah readings and commentary. At 5 p.m., the rabbis will move from the Lincoln Memorial to the city's John Marshall Place Park to host the Ne'ilah, closing services for Yom Kippur, and an interfaith vigil.
Participants are invited to join the Yom Kippur fast, the event's website stated, and wear white "to signify our intention to purify our souls and our lives."
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