Today is the most holy of holy days in the Jewish religion: Yom Kippur. Many are familiar with it as the Day of Atonement where Jews repent their sins, recognize their sins, and ask God for forgiveness while fasting in an effort to keep Jews reflective and uncomfortable. At least up until last night, that’s what I have always taken away from it. However, since I have been old enough to make my own decisions, I have not gone to synagogue nor observed the holiday, or any Jewish holiday for that matter. Since leaving the comfort of my parent’s home at 18 I ran as far away from my Jewish faith as I could. I wanted to define my faith; if I even wanted a faith, and no one was going to force me to do anything I didn’t want to do [something’s never change]. For the last 15 or 16 years or so, I wouldn’t define myself as faithless but more so as confused. Confused about what it meant to be an American Jew and what it meant to really call myself a Jew.
A few years back, I found yoga and yoga nurtured and continues to nurture a very spiritual aspect of my life but yoga is not a religion. While Buddhism and much of its principles are present in my life and resonate with me, I am not a Buddhist. Lord knows I put way too much emphasis on where my yoga pants are from to ever really practice non-attachment. That said, I’ve always been a Jew.
A tattooed, non-practicing, never-dated-a-Jewish-guy until I married one kind of Jew.
Two years ago when I met my husband Greg, being Jewish suddenly became important to me. Maybe because he’s a Cohen and I had to look up the religious significance of what “Being a Cohen” meant, but when our relationship got serious and we started the path towards marriage we agreed that we wanted to be as Jewish as we could within the parameters of our lives. In a nutshell, we wanted to delve into our Jewish faith together as a married couple, dip our big toes into the pool, and test the waters of our faith.
Instrumental in guiding us towards this journey of self-discovery was our Rabbi, Sarah Bassin. The Rabs as we like to call her was and continues to be a pivotal person in our lives as our spiritual advisor and friend. She listens to our frustrations with the faith and nudges into the right directions while not pushing us too hard for she knows we will just write it off. This year, we couldn’t afford to rejoin our temple and we both really wanted to attend services to see what being Jewish as adults was all about. The Rabs gifted us High Holy Day tickets providing we give a donation we can afford which we gladly did last night on Kol Nidre.
While the reform movement has adopted a new prayer book, one that is entirely foreign to me and a little too untraditional for my taste, being in temple the last few weeks has been transformative. Last night while attending Kol Nidre services, my husband and I shared tears together during Rabbi Laura Geller’s sermon. I was so moved by her words I took notes on my phone to recall them to share today. And while I am sure I cannot do her sermon justice, here’s what I took away from coming back to my faith on the High Holy days as an adult:
Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur are solemn and a time where we recognize our sins. It is the time where we acknowledge our figurative death and make peace with our mortality but it’s more than that. It is a time of rebirth. It is a time to clean out our hard drives, delete what we no longer need, upload what we want and hope for, and start a new. Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur are about erasing everything, getting rid of what we no longer need that’s slowing down our hard drive, and finally having a fresh new start with a clean slate.
Like in yoga we experience a figurative death and rebirth in our final rest of savasana.
In mythology, the Phoenix experiences a fiery death and re-emergence to only rise again more beautiful and stronger than before.
And in Judaism, God gives us the same opportunity to do so, we are afforded the same opportunity to stop, reset, and start again should we choose to do so. And like in yoga and with the Phoenix, Judaism says that there is no shame is starting over or again, for it means you were courageous enough to have a real and honest dialogue with yourself to start over. And no matter where we are in our process of honoring ourselves, God hears us all and honors us.
I clutched the hand of my husband last night while surrounded by hundreds of other Jews. I looked down at his fingers intertwined in mine and then I continued to feel awe for my people. Filled with pride and then overwhelmed by intense shame, I thought to myself 6 million Jews died for this and I couldn’t even get my ass to synagogue?! And then I was proud, because Hitler did not succeed—we are still here.
Finally, at the end of the service, people shared stories with the congregation of how much Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills meant to their families. Greg and I both continued to shed tears of powerful connectedness to our fellow congregants. And though we are just finding and figuring out our faith, we are inspired and hopeful to bring Judaism into our home and make space for it to reside in our hearts. No, we are not observing the holidays the way many do. But we are taking the steps to be better Jews to keep our faith alive. The Rabs has tantalized our interest in Judaism and while we are a long way from bathing in the pool of our faith, as I interpret the New Year and Yom Kippur to symbolize, we are deleting things to make space for the hope of our religion and heritage to thrive on our terms.