U.N. to officially recognize Yom Kippur in 2016

Posted at 8:46 AM, Dec 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-19 08:46:56-05

NEW YORK (CNN) -- For the first time in its 70-year history, the United Nations has officially recognized a Jewish holiday.

U.N. employees who observe the Jewish faith will have the day off and no official meetings will take place on this date from now on, according to the Israeli mission to the organization.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, considered the most important Jewish religious holiday, will join two of the world's other monotheistic religions in having one of its high holidays observed by the world body.

Christmas Day, Good Friday, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha have all been recognized by the United Nations as official religious holidays.

B'nai B'rith International, in a statement, said Thursday's decision on how the holiday would be practically observed was a "modest, common-sense step."

In the past, the opening week of the General Assembly fell on at least one of the Jewish holidays, which are typically celebrated toward the end of September. This has caused Israeli delegates to miss sideline meetings and official debates, according to the Israeli mission to the organization, which has been a member state since 1949.

Efforts to have the United Nations recognize Yom Kippur were led by Israel's former ambassador the United Nations, Ron Prosor, who began lobbying almost three years ago.

Starting in 2016, according to the decision by the United Nations, the organization will no longer have 10 official holidays -- there will be nine official holidays and each employee will be able to choose one of seven floating holidays as a 10th holiday.

Yom Kippur, along with Day of Vesak, Diwali, Gurpurab, Orthodox Christmas and Orthodox Good Friday, in addition to Presidents' Day, will be considered floating holidays. The United Nations said the move was "in the interest of respecting the diversity of United Nations staff members."

The decision implements General Assembly resolution 69/250, which recognized the significance of a number of other holidays, and was adopted last year.

"The decision to recognize Yom Kippur allows for more diversity in religion and opened the door for other holidays, in addition to Yom Kippur," Israeli diplomat Yotam Goren told CNN in a phone interview.

Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, played a crucial role in negotiating the initiative, according to the Israeli mission. "The partnership with the U.S. Mission prevented the anti-Israel majority at the U.N. from blocking the resolution," the Israeli mission said in a press release.

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