Yom Kippur 5774: A Hard, Hard Day

Shana tova! Happy New Year! This is my first post of the New Year, 5774, and unfortunately, the themes of tension in this post are feelings that have accompanied the beginning of the year. At the same time, there are good things happening too, but it is hard to feel comfortable when I can’t get my mind off other things causing me anxiety. We are still in the middle of the hagim, Jewish holidays, though and I have hope that things will get a bit easier and more joyful soon.

Now, to the story of my Yom Kippur.

Moving to a new place soon before the holidays isn’t too much fun. On the one hand, you get to test drive a bunch of synagogues in a short amount of time, but you aren’t really able to have a strong connection to a community that feels truly yours for some really important days of the year. Luckily, finding a few synagogues to frequent for services hasn’t been too tough, but it does make me a bit homesick for my congregation where I converted.

The melodies of Yom Kippur are some of my favorite in the Jewish liturgical year. I feel like as soon as Yom Kippur is over, the melodies that my soul has poured forth retreat and spend all year dancing around in my head just waiting to be released at the first Slichot service the next year, a service just a few days before the Jewish New Year and about two weeks before Yom Kippur.  I am in that stage right now, still humming the sounds that filled last weekend, and just like last year, they will never go away but just continue to build inside of me until I can sing them out again next year, G-d willing. The way I think of the melodies is a good description of the way I think of Yom Kippur in general. It is close to the beginning of the year, but in so many ways, I see it as the culmination and climax of the preceding year. All moments of 5773 lead up to that point, Yom Kippur 5774, where I stare soberly at where I have been and where I hope to go and all I can do is pray.

After spending hours in services on Yom Kippur morning, a friend and I took a walk. On this walk we discussed our own unique experiences of the holidays and more broadly community and identity. He raised many thought provoking questions for me. The sheer amount of questions and difference of perspective caused me to turn inward once again and reflect on difficult and challenging experiences of years past. Overwhelming feelings of loneliness, sadness, and absence swallowed me. I felt uneasy and anxious. These are feelings I had been bottling up for months. Feelings that would come in strong waves and then buried deep inside of me to the point where I didn’t feel anything at all. That is the way I experience depression, having no feelings at all. It took a cold grey day in September, filled with prayer, reflection and hunger, to surface these feelings. I wanted to escape them. I was scared, but I knew I had to face them. I had to sit with the heartache so I could feel again, the good and the bad. Following the dramatic mood, I found myself an isolated spot in a mostly deserted parking lot and lied down. As my head  hit the pavement, tears hit my cheeks.  Tears from bottled up pain that had kept me from truly forgiving myself for all the hurt I put myself through. All the judgements I placed on myself. The lack of self care I took. The last tears were shed before Neilah, the last prayer service of Yom Kippur, when the gates are closed and are fate is sealed.

Was this final act of repentance done in time?  My fate for the year to come is unknown to me, but either way, I am prepared to continue to reflect and grow stronger. I am prepared to sit with my feelings no matter how uncomfortable, as to avoid the possibility of not feeling anything at all. I am prepared to fully inhabit these feelings, to fully feel them so I can fully live life.

My rabbi once gave a dvra torah where he said (I am paraphrasing) a day fully experienced is a day with laughing, crying, and learning. Although this was said years ago, it has stuck with me and I often fall back on this thought. With this idea, Yom Kippur 5774, really was the first day I have fully experienced in some time, and that makes me extremely grateful for the hard, hard day. 

Fasting in Jerusalem- Tenth of Tevet 5773

Today is the tenth of Tevet. I posted my reflections on this day last year.

For some reason, I have always felt a connection to fast days. Even before identifying as Jewish, the first days of the Jewish calendar that observed were fast days.  I don’t exactly know why I feel such a strong connection to them, but an idea I have is that because fasts mark times that were hard for our people. Not only in Judaism, but in every religion. It is a way of mourning during our year. We don’t just remember the past, but we recognize that the wounds are fresh. Time is thrown out the window, and we sit with the communities before us who felt pain and sorrow. This is really the reason I love all holidays, but there is still something special in fasts. I think the lack of extravagance in a fast makes me more apt to reflect more.

With every holiday, I connect myself with the history. This year, being in Jerusalem for a fast about the siege of Jerusalem made it harder to find that connection. It sounds strange that being in the city would challenge me more than help me, but it did. It felt strange mourning over Jerusalem when I was clearly in the modern, Jewish city going about my day. Why mourn when I know how the story is now? I was free to practice my religion in this city along with many, many other Jews.

As the day goes on, I knew there was a way I still related to the biblical story. Maybe Jerusalem is an autonomous Jewish city now, but it is sadly an exceptional instance in history. Although we are free here, there is still a fragility. We need to remember and connect to this day, even in Jerusalem, because it can so easily happen again. If we don’t make a point of mourning the loss that our people had, we risk forgetting how precious, sacred and fragile Jerusalem is for us. It is important to actively remember the day, take action by fasting on the day, in order to inspire action to protect our current Home.

May everyone fasting have a safe and meaningful fast.

Fast of Tammuz

How secure is our world?

Yesterday, the 17th of Tammuz, the walls of Jerusalem were breached. Today, almost 2000 years later, we are fasting for this breach to our sacred space.

How relevant is the Fast of Tammuz to Jews today. In the year 5772 we are fortunate enough to have Jerusalem and the rest of Israel as a free Jewish homeland. In about two months, I will get on a plane to make this Land my home, but today, by fasting I am recognizing the insecurity of the Land both then and now.

All life is so fragile, not only for Jews and not only Israel. In a world where we constantly struggle to obtain more and are seldolmly satisfied with what we have it is easy to forget that everything sits in an instable state of here today and gone tomorrow. It takes an illness or another’s loss to make us step back and count our blessings, but I feel the 17th of Tammuz comes to remind us that life is uncertain and unsecure. We can experience loss at any moment (and will in just 3 weeks with Tisha b’Av), so let us take time to appreciate everything we have today.

Tenth of Tevet

Today, the tenth of Tevet, is a minor fast day in Judaism. The fast of Tevet is an observance remembering Nebuchadnezzar II’s siege of Jerusalem. The event is recorded in 2 Kings 25: 1-2, “Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it. So the city was under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.” This siege eventually led to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE. In more recent years, the tenth of Tevet has also become a memorial day for Shoah (Holocaust) victims whose date of death is unknown.  It is a General Kaddish Day and memorial candles are lit.

A minor fast includes keeping oneself from food or drink (if they are healthy) from dawn to nightfall. This differs from major fast days, like Yom Kippur, where one restrains from work also and the fast last nightfall to nightfall.

Today, I stand in solidarity with the Jewish people as they keep nourishment from passing through their lips. As I use the day to call to mind Nebuchadnezzar’s siege and those victims of the Shoah with unknown dates of death, I begin to think deeper about what it means to fast. Fasting is a way to remember what has happened. We think about why we are fasting on this day and not tomorrow or yesterday. What is our tradition trying to recall in history. This is the straight forward part of reflection on a fast day. Most people have been told since they were young what they were fasting for on that day, or if they are like me and did not know before, a quick talk with a Rabbi, community member, or even an internet search will clarify what the fast is remembering.

The second and more implicit reflection on a  fast day is relating to the event itself. After asking the question of what happened on this day, you move to asking how this happened, why this happened and how does it relate to myself and my community, past, present and future. Answers will be different for different people, and this second type of reflection is an opportunity for learning and growth.

Everyday we should ask ourselves what our relation to the past is, but on fast days it is more of an obligation. We are asked to link what has been done by our ancestors and what we do now. I love the grandeur of connecting my own life to people of a different time and place. Today, I reflect on what it means for me to fast, not yet a Jew, as Jews for centuries before me have fasted on the same day. I think about how are my set intentions similar and different from those before me.

For everyone observing the fast on the tenth of Tevet, I wish you an easy and meaningful fast. May you find something deeper this day as you connect yourself with the generations before and after you.