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Closure for the past year during Yom Kippur

Rabbi Gary Beresford in front of an antique painting of a rabbi reading the Torah by candlelight.

BRADENTON -- Sunday night at sundown opened with a chanted prayer, and congregants of Ohr Yeshua Messianic Synagogue gathered for Yom Kippur - the most important holiday of the Jewish year.

Rabbi Gary Beresford knows it is a time when a rabbi is called upon to help the congregation understand the importance of repentance, and directed Ohr Yeshua through two days of services.

"Yom Kippur is about drawing closer to God and the importance of living according to God's commandments so that we may have a positive effect in the world for God," Beresford said. "It's not only about one person; it's also about being right with God as a community."

Since the time between Sunday and Monday was considered a holy period during the Yom Kippur high holiday, synagogues may have chosen to have their services without time limits. Beresford planned the synagogue's services for sundown on Sunday through sundown on Monday.

In the Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of the most celebrated holidays.

Things are slightly different at Ohr Yeshua Messianic Synagogue.

"We use an Orthodox Jewish prayer book and we observe all the high holidays," Beresford said. "We believe the Messiah has come, which does differ us from other streams of Judaism.

"But we strongly hold to our Jewish identity," he said.

Ohr Yeshua means "Light of Yeshua" (the original name of Jesus). It has 30 families and they meet in a classroom rented at Faith Bible Church in Bradenton.

The synagogue's vision and mission says that they long to restore the Hebrew roots of the original faith and practice of the Apostles and first followers of Yeshua of Nazareth. The congregation proclaims the Torah and its way of life, fully centered on the Messiah, to today's People of God.

Beresford said the week from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur is the biggest week of the year.

"Man is judged on Rosh Hashanah and the decree is handed down on Yom Kippur," He said. "God looks at the whole year and what is wicked is not acceptable to God."

Between the two high holidays, Jewish tradition believes God gives an extra 10 days to turn around one's life.

Beresford of Ohr Yeshua synagogue prepared for Yom Kippur with the Chumash, from left, Menorah and Siddur.

According to the Web site Judaism 101, "The name 'Yom Kippur' means 'Day of Atonement,' and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to 'afflict the soul,' to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, I mentioned the 'books' in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends."

Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person, the entry on the Web site notes. To atone for sins against another person, one must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs committed against them before Yom Kippur.

Beresford appears to not be from Florida or even the United States. He has a rich accent, which is difficult to place in the world, and he joked that he arrived to the United States by swimming across the sea.

But which sea?

Most likely the Atlantic, if it were true, as he is from South Africa and has also lived in Zimbabwe and Israel before living in the United States.

"I wasn't always a rabbi," he said, which is hard to imagine based on his traditional hat and solemn, articulate demeanor.

"I was into marketing management," he said.

Beresford said while living in Johannesburg, South Africa, the political environment was worsening and was no longer safe to stay there, and he and his wife decided to move to Zimbabwe.

"Zimbabwe had gone through and come out of a civil war and it was relatively quiet there," he said.

In Israel, they lived north of Tel Aviv and in and around Jerusalem, where he started to study the history and religion of Israel through a grant, specializing in Second Temple and comparative religion.

The study proved to be a life-changing experience and connected him to the historical beginnings of the Jewish faith, while opening doors to understanding the different religious groups.

"From archaeological aspects, it clearly shows that the Bible is not only spiritual but recorded history," Beresford said. "Also, it is the way of life that was given to the Jewish people and ultimately to the world, to me, is the only valid religious reality."

Beresford started to receive invitations for speaking engagements for Jews and Christians in Europe and the United States. But by the late 1990s he was spending more than 50 percent of his time here, so the family relocated to Lakewood Ranch and he became the rabbi at Ohr Yeshua.

Typically, the congregation meets every Saturday at 10 a.m. for the Shacharit Shabbat prayer service, which lasts about three hours.

During Yom Kippur, congregants fasted and met at 8:30 a.m. on Monday and continued their readings from the Machzor and had ongoing prayers for the forgiveness. The Shofar was blown for 90 sounds and one hopes for God's pardon, as the high holiday draws to an end at nightfall.

"We remember family members that have passed away and those who have perished," Beresford said. "We remember the Holocaust and the times when Jews were murdered.

"We remember and don't let them disappear."



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