In an historic decision nearly three years in the making, the United Nations officially recognized Yom Kippur as a holiday on Thursday, to be marked annually by the international body starting in 2016.
Official UN holidays mean no meetings or official events will be held on those dates, with religious employees permitted to take the day off without losing vacation days. Until now, the UN recognized ten official holidays, including Christmas and Eid al-Fitr.
According to CNN, Thursday’s decision altered the arrangement of official holidays, so that there will now be nine official holidays each year and employees will be able to choose a tenth from a list of seven other recognized holidays, including Yom Kippur. The other holidays are the Day of Vesak, Diwali, Gurpurab, Orthodox Christmas and Orthodox Good Friday and Presidents’ Day. The move was made, the UN said, “in the interest of respecting the diversity of United Nations staff members.”
Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Falling on the tenth day of the Jewish year, it is a day of fasting, prayer and atonement. It offers a chance to wipe the slate clean with God.
The effort to gain recognition for Yom Kippur began with former Israeli ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, who began lobbying almost three years ago. A breakthrough was made last year, when the 69th General Assembly recognized the importance of the holiday as the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Yom Kippur — or the lack of recognition for it — has caused considerable strain over the years, as it falls almost every year during the opening week of the UN General Assembly. Each year, Israeli delegates have had to ask for meetings to be postponed or moved to allow them to participate. Other times, Israeli delegates have been forced to attend meetings on the holiday, despite the great difficulty posed by the requirement to fast that day. Israel has been a member state of the UN since 1949.
Israel’s current ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called the move “a decisive victory” that “finally provides an official place for the Jewish religion in the world’s parliament.
“Yom Kippur is the Jewish people’s holiest day, and the UN should have recognized its importance many years ago. This is the amendment of a historical injustice against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
Danon also acknowledged the invaluable support of Samantha Power, the US ambassador, for her help in preventing anti-Israel forces from blocking the decision. “The partnership with the US Mission prevented the anti-Israel majority at the UN from blocking the resolution,” the Israeli mission wrote in a press release.
Danon added, “The American-Israeli Partnership at the UN stands for good versus bad and right versus wrong. The value of justice, anchored in Jewish tradition and thought, will finally find its place in the family of nations, and be a part of the UN’s history.”