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Judaism's holiest day, a powerful time for forgiveness and hope, begins at sundown.

For weeks, Barbara Mazer Gross rehearsed the prayer whose powerful message and moving melody mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar.

As has been her custom for several years, the classically trained vocalist will sing the Kol Nidre at St. Petersburg's Temple Beth-El. "It is a moment of reflection in the service," she said.

The Kol Nidre, said Temple Beth-El Rabbi Michael Torop, is the most solemn prayer of the High Holy Days, the 10-day period that began with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and ends Saturday with Yom Kippur. The prayer will usher in Yom Kippur at sundown tonight.

"The intention is through the reciting of Kol Nidre, we are given a chance to begin the year with a clean slate," Torop said. "In essence, we are saying that we commit to doing our best each year to fulfill all of the vows, all of the promises, all of the commitments that we have made in the past and we shall make in the future. But for those which are left unfulfilled, we acknowledge our regret and ask for them to be forgiven."

Known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a time of fasting and prayer. Torop said many in his Reform congregation will follow the custom of fasting. Some will wear white and will not wear leather, he said.

"Within the Reform community, people make their own individual choices about how they personally respond to these obligations, and so Reform Jews willincorporate those customs that are meaningful to them and help to deepen their experience of Yom Kippur as a day of forgiving oneself, forgiving others and gaining forgiveness from God," he said.

Tampa resident Sharon Feen Wallace, who usually worships at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, a Reform congregation, and Congregation Rodeph Sholom, which is Conservative, will make her way to Palm Harbor for Yom Kippur.

She will attend Young Israel Chabad of Pinellas, arriving before sundown today to stay with the rabbi and his wife. As they will, she will walk to the Chabad center, not driving on the holy day. Yom Kippur is a day when she becomes focused, she said. "It's a time of reflection and introspection. What have I done this year and how can I do better next year," she said.

At Temple Beth-El, the morning of Yom Kippur will begin with a three-hour contemporary service. Gross, 36, who has been singing at High Holy Day services for almost two decades, will sing and play the guitar with a volunteer group of musicians called the Jammin' Jews.

The congregation will also continue its tradition of inviting members to participate in a social action forum. This year, St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse will give a talk titled "When Washington kicks the can down the road, it ends up on Central Avenue - how Washington gridlock forces the City to tackle tough issues."

The annual tradition is rooted in a commitment to tikkun olam, or repairing the world, Torop said. "Repairing and improving the world we live in has always been central to the vision of Temple Beth-El as a faith community, on Yom Kippur in particular," he said.

"In the morning service, the prophetic text that we read comes from the book of Isaiah, and the message of that text is that religious ritual and observances are important, but ultimately are significantly diminished if they do not lead us into taking an active role in the pursuit of justice in our world."

Yom Kippur will end at sundown Saturday with the sounding of the shofar, the ram's horn.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.