The Virtual Shtetl features hundreds of accounts and recollections. We have selected fragments of tales describing how Yom Kippur was celebrated in different cities for you to read.
Dawid Ringiel about Yom Kippur in Leżajsk
On Yom Kippur, you would sit in the synagogue all day. First, we would say the Minha prayer when it was still daytime, then we would come home and have supper before going back to the synagogue for Kol Nidre. We would put ash on food as a sign of mourning. And then everyone had to drink seven sips of soda water so that they could fast peacefully. Because you were not allowed to eat anything from the moment of the early evening supper until Maariv. The second day was the same, you would fast until the evening.
A postcard with a black-and-white reproduction of Jakub Weinles' painting Jews Praying on Yom Kippur (POLIN Museum collection)
Before going to the synagogue, everyone lit long-burning candles and placed them at home. Every woman also lit holiday candles with a blessing, as it was done each Saturday. My mom would light four candlesticks, and my grandma – two. In our synagogue, there was an old custom which required the shamash to place straw in front of the Torah Ark, Aron ha-Kodesh. Every praying person would then come, kneel, bow their head towards the straw, and the shamash would hit them with a whip of seven or thirteen tails while they said – my fault, my fault, my fault. It was a penance. The whipping was called the makot.
Lejb Guz about Yom Kippur in Kowel
When Yom Kippur came... as you know, one of the aspects of this holiday is fasting. And this caused great suffering among the young, as their feelings were... far from religious. I remember I certainly committed a horrible crime on this fasting day because I ate something in secret and went around depressed, expecting imminent punishment from someone: would it be God or one of my parents?
A Yom Kippur belt buckle (photo by P. Jamski/Lublin Museum collection)
Dawid Mitzner about alms collection during Yom Kippur in Warsaw
My post was at 6 Twarda St., where the synagogue stands as well. The synagogue was a big part of my life. I spent every Yom Kippur there, at the main side entrance to the synagogue. Now it is built-up. This main side used to lead directly onto Twarda Street, but now they built a house there. I would stand there every day before Yom Kippur with a can from Keren Kejemet in my hands and collect money from the Jews who came to pray.
Icchak Lewin about Yom Kippur in Wizno
Before the Yom Kippur evening, we would say Kol Nidre. This was the only time of the year that I saw my dad kiss my mom. He cried, too. In the evening, they would go to the synagogue.
Abraham Flaschner about Yom Kippur in Trembowla
A day before Yom Kippur, we placed straw on the synagogue's floor, and during the prayer we performed self-flagellation for the sins we had committed.
Abraham Flaschner with his family (anonymous)
Szmuel Geldner about Yom Kippur in Mrzygłód
On the evening that preceded Yom Kippur, a Christian would prepare the bath for us, praying Jews, in return for a small fee. White gaberdines filled the synagogue. Men were getting ready to say the Kol Nidre prayer. As soon as the first words of the prayer were said, as soon as Rabbi Icek Szental's voice was heard, the entire crowd gathered in the synagogue started to repeat after him the verses of this holy prayer.
Zuzanna Mensz about Yom Kippur in Skryhiczyn
And then, there was the Yom Kippur fasting. One wasn't supposed to eat anything at all from the evening until the next evening. My mother, because she was who she was, always baked a lot of cakes for the holiday, left them in an open cupboard so that the children wouldn't starve to death.
Zuzanna Mensz with her friends in Skryhiczyn (anonymous)
I tried not to eat anything at all and succeeded only once, when I was a bit older. But my mom always fasted and went to the synagogue with my father. Only then did she go to pray. It is perhaps the most important holiday – Yom Kippur.
The above fragments of accounts come from the Virtual Shtetl portal's own collections and the projects Polish Roots in Israel, Centropa, and Writing Down the Jewish World in Poland.