Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish year, begins at sundown Friday. Synagogues and temples will overflow with fasting worshipers, many clad in white garments and canvas sneakers.
Many will have tickets, a requirement to get into most Yom Kippur services. On this most solemn of days, and on Rosh Hashana _ the Jewish New Year that precedes Yom Kippur by nine days _ tickets are the only fair way to cater to the crowds that turn out, Jewish leaders say.
In recent times, the prearranged tickets add an extra measure of security, said Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel of St. Petersburg.
"We want to maintain a safe environment for us all," he said. "Tickets help us to do so."
The High Holy Days _ the 10 days from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur _ bring synagogues their largest crowds of the year, Luski said. Tickets for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services come with synagogue memberships, dues for which are allocated annually, the rabbi said.
"Synagogues are maintained through synagogue memberships. With membership comes many privileges, including tickets to the High Holiday services," he said.
The Jewish community does not pass a plate each week, said Luski, explaining that it is forbidden to handle money on the Sabbath.
Congregation B'nai Israel makes accommodations for those who cannot afford membership dues, Luski said.
"Our synagogue leadership is happy to meet with any Jewish family in the community to make appropriate arrangements," he said.
Special arrangements also are made for relatives visiting during the crowded High Holy Days services.
"We have a reciprocity arrangement with other congregations," said Luski, indicating that a rabbi might write a letter of introduction for a member of his congregation.
This time on the Jewish calendar also is when special prayers are said in memory of loved ones. Yom Kippur marks one of the four times set aside a year for the recitation of the Yizkor prayer, of remembrance for the dead. It also is when yahrzeit candles are lit in their memory.
The period from Rosh Hashana, which began last Wednesday at sundown, to Yom Kippur _ sometimes referred to as the Days of Awe _ is believed to be when God judges his people.
"We pray not only that we have been inscribed in the Book of Life at Rosh Hashana, but that at the end of Yom Kippur, our fasting, our praying, our repenting will find God's attention and that we may be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life," Luski said.
Fasting for Yom Kippur lasts for 25 hours, beginning this year at sundown Friday and continuing until darkness falls Saturday.
At the end of the final Yom Kippur service, the shofar will be sounded and worshipers will leave to break their fast with a meal that traditionally consists of dairy foods.
"It's the holiest day of the Jewish year," Luski said.
"In Israel, television and radio stations are not operating on regular schedules. The airport is closed. Even those who are not very observant respect Yom Kippur as the holiest day."
Leather shoes give way to ones made of canvas, a symbol of simplicity and respect for life, Luski said.
White garments are worn to represent "the purity of the angels, the cleansing that we wish to accomplish during this period."