This morning I was asked about my choice to be an observant Jew to a friend. She asked about my rituals surrounding Yom Kippur. Even though she doesn’t fully understand it, she was lovely and asking some great questions in order to get to know me better.
I tried to keep my answers simple and not start off with my long love of Judaism starting with my first love and crush, Neil Diamond who introduced me to the complexity of being a Jew and following the path of your heart. I was 7 years old and I would be in tears every time I heard him sing the sacred song, Kol Nidre. And even now 35 years later, every year on Yom Kippur I will play his version of the song and it will bring me to tears.
Instead I pondered the answers to her questions I found that when you get a chance to explain why you are religious and why you partake in the various rituals of your faith, it is actually one of the best tests of your faith and understanding of its importance to you. If you aren’t able to explain with passion and meaning of why you do what you do… then there is no reason to do them at all. It is those efforts that you make that mean something. Just like making the time to make the special family dinner, make the brisket recipe that your family loves every year, you have to make time away from your busy lives and make it important.
I feel my faith, my belief in G*D is my choice. It was not a traditional path as many take. And it is that non-traditional route that I took that I appreciate. From my earliest tastes of Judaism with Neil Diamond’s Kol Nidre to Barbra Streisand’s Avinu Malkeinu complimentary of The Jazz Singer and Yentil to my explorations of Buddhism and Pagan spirituality. We have choices, but ultimately we are all seeking that place that feels like we too can be a part of something more powerful that gives us hope.
Before moving out of the area, life in our town pretty much comes to a slow crawl around the High Holy Days. Schools are closed, people don’t go to work, many people are fasting and attending services that are packed to standing room space in our temple. This was a time for us to come together as a family, turn off technology, and reach into ourselves and think about the lives we are choosing to live. This reflection of our lives in both a religious was and internal dialog of who we think we are vs who we really are in enhanced by the sound of the Cantor singing, the beauty of the music, and calm of the temple… all bringing about for me an almost perfect meditative place.
The temple at Yom Kippur is a holy place, a place filled with both great love and great sadness. It is that intense assembly with G*D at that time that brings me to tears most years. Yes, I do a lot of crying from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. There is this immense feeling of connection that comes over me and I love how for this time, Yom Kippur, I feel as if I am a part of this G*D energy.
No, Rabbi and Cantor are no different on Yom Kippur as they are any other day of the year, they are still the wonderful men that I admire, and yet they are different and it is that difference that makes this time special. They take on the importance and energy of G*D and allow that to reflect in their message to the people.
This is MY time. I let go of annoyances, tune out the other people in the building, and become something more… calm and peaceful. I love that feeling and I want to be a part of it. I want that to be WHO I am all year long and leave the temple each year feeling as if I can actually take that energy and excitement of being a part of this special thing and make it a part of my daily life.
However, since moving away and not finding a new temple that gives us that connection that we felt with our beloved family congregation, the Holy Days are difficult and reflective in different ways. These day actually test us as Jews, demand that we make this time important even when it is not easy, not handed to us as peacefully and easily as they were when everyone we knew were also observing. Schools were open, work went on, and our new friends don’t really understand our rituals or religion. And I am personally feeling pretty alone as I miss my children who are out of state and just as much as my children, I miss my synagogue and religious family.
This year I made the vegetarian brisket with the same recipe that my MIL used for years on her beef, I made the matzo ball soup, we lit the candles and made the effort even though it was only the three of us this year instead of the usual gathering of a couple dozen. Was it the same as it was with the big family? No. But it was nice, no bickering or family drama. No eye rolling when the nieces and nephews do inappropriate things. Even though it was quiet, reserved, maybe not as traditional as I would have liked, it was special and made me think even more about how we will do it next year. Different isn’t always bad, but it does inspire me to work harder.
This this is our time to talk more to each other, say we are sorry for the things we have done to offend each other through the year, and the rituals of our faith are still here. Tonight we will break fast, listen to the services streamed from the synagogue hours before on my laptops and make this day important. I want that effort, I want to feel this day. It is that effort that helps me to feel my connection with G*D even though it would be easier to just slide into routine, not put in the work extra work, and not have to emotionally feel the impact of the day.
So today, for Yom Kippur while I wait for my family to come home from their busy day I am listening to the services, cooking a special meal, making the effort, and being very thankful for those that have joined our lives here who make such a beautiful effort to love us and be a part of our lives. Tonight we will call our children who are all grown up and as a family we will make this day special and important.
Yom Kippur isn’t just about reflecting on what you can do better, the sins of the past being forgiven, it is also about stepping out of the day to day and finding your priorities. You get this amazing chance to clear the slate, wipe away all of the grudges or doubts, and just start fresh. It makes me wish we could let go more often.
“G'mar Hatimah Tovah” or “May You Be Sealed for a Good Year (in the Book of Life).”
Let’s hope this year is one of Peace and Love.