<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Q7QMHI-Hdw8" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Yom Kippur, the holiest and most somber day on the Jewish calendar, begins at sundown today, with the observant fasting and seeking forgiveness for their sins.
``What Yom Kippur really is about is a ritual encounter with your own death,'' said Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
``It's a kind of close call. People who have had a near-death experience -- it forces them to kind of rethink the meaning of their life. That's what Yom Kippur is -- a ritualized near-death experience.''
In addition to not eating or drinking, other prohibitions on Yom Kippur include wearing leather shoes, bathing, using perfumes or lotions and having sex.
``It is a day when we focus on our souls, not our bodies,'' Geller told City News Service. ``That's why we're fasting.''
According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur is the day on which Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of commandment tablets and announced God's pardon to the people.
Observant Jews believe that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the Book of Life during the period of the High Holy Days, the 10-day span between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur.
For that reason, the traditional greeting among Jews on Yom Kippur is Khatima Tova, which is shorthand for ``May your name be written in the good book.''
The evening service begins with the congregation standing in the presence of the Torah scrolls and the congregation is given permission to pray with other sinners, ``so we acknowledge we're not perfect, we screwed up, and that's OK,'' Geller said.
The Kol Nidre, an ancient prayer whose title translates to ``all of our vows,'' is then sung, Geller said.
``It says all of our vows are not vows,'' she said. ``For the moment, you untie all the ties that you've made and you look at those ties over the next 24 hours and decide which ones you want to tie again.''
Following the singing of the Kol Nidre Geller said, ``we hear the words that God said after Moses convinces God in the biblical narrative to forgive the people'' for worshipping a golden calf: ``I have forgiven you as I have promised.''
``We start the night knowing we have been forgiven,'' Geller said. ``Then we can spend the rest of the day doing the work to forgive ourselves and really look at who we are, why we made the choices we made and how we want to make them differently in the future.''
In Judaism ``sin is about a mistake, an error, or not quite getting it right,'' Geller said. ``It's not that I am a sinner; it's that I have done a sin and need to attend to it.''
Geller said she plans to begin her sermon tonight with a quote from the comedian Billy Crystal about Yom Kippur, ``We don't eat, we don't drink and if you are very, very traditional Jew, you don't turn on the lights, so what you have is a lot of hungry, thirsty people sitting around in the dark.''
``What Yom Kippur for me is about turning that darkness into light and really looking deeply at ourselves and the aspiration of becoming the people we want to be,'' Geller said.