Unetaneh Tokef ונתנה תוקף Means More this Yom Kippur

David Robinow


Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday when Jews traditionally fast and pray to Hashem so that their fate, which is “sealed” on that day, is fortunate. One of the most famous prayers is Unetaneh Tokef, ונתנה תוקף in which it says, “who shall live and who shall die,” and graphically describes certain deaths and certain lives. Reading this song and prayer so many times on the same day without eating can become tedious and easily lose its meaning, but for Orly Ohayon, a Jewish 16 year old junior at Samuel W. Wolfson High School, in Jacksonville, Fla.. the meaning of Unetaneh Tokef, ונתנה תוקף, will never be forgotten.


On Friday, Sept. 13, like most years, Orly Ohayon and her mother, Esther Ohayon, of blessed memory, were walking to Yom Kippur services when the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street a mere 367 feet away from their synagogue, Etz Chaim Synagogue of Jacksonville, Fla., a reckless driver hit both Orly Ohayon and her mother. Esther Ohayon, 57, was tragically killed in the accident, leaving Orly Ohayon and her siblings orphaned, as her father, of blessed memory, had passed away 13 years ago. Esther Ohayon was buried next to her husband in Israel.


Orly Ohayon sustained severe injuries and was rushed to the University of Florida Shands Hospital, where she remained in critical condition for two weeks while undergoing many surgeries. Funds are being raised to help pay for her current needs (hospital bills, burial costs, tuition, etc.).

        The prayer Unetaneh Tokef, ונתנה תוקף, states, “who shall live and who shall die, who will die at his predestined time, and who before.” This line, which was read just a block away only a few hours after the incident, is grave and powerful. Rabbi Yaakov Fisch of Etz Chaim Synagogue was given the terrible task of telling Orly Ohayon that her mother had died and that she was now an orphan. This tragic loss reminds us of the mortality of mankind. Some would argue what we say in Unetaneh Tokef, ונתנה תוקף, is hyperbole; in reality “who shall live and who shall die” is very real. We all wish Orly Ohayon and her family our greatest condolences and a Refuah Shlemah (complete recovery).


We spend Yom Kippur reflecting our lives, with our fates being sealed in the book of life. During this time, we recognize that things could change at any moment and work towards being our best selves. It gives all of us, younger and older, a chance to reflect on the fact that we are all mortal.