Saturday, September 18, 2010

Our First Yom Kippur in Israel

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is one of Judaism’s holiest days. During the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, one is not permitted to work, refrains from any form of entertainment and must abstain from eating and drinking throughout the entire day.

My husband has opened the doors to his faith to me and shared with me the traditions and personal connections he has to Judaism. As I have shared my connections to my faith with him. We are in this strange dance of faiths that is impossibly in perfect step with another. Although Judaism is not my religion and doesn’t feed my own spiritual needs, I find beauty in her traditions and comfort in her presence.

As a non-Jew, living in a Jewish household, I have observed Yom Kippur with my husband during the past few years. I attend services, fast and refrain from work out of respect for my Jewish husband and our Jewish household. Well, if we are being completely honest here, half out of respect and half out of avoiding the peril of eating a juicy double hamburger with a side of fries and a large milkshake in front of a famished man who feels guilty about all his past regressions. I mean, come on, I don’t enjoy torturing my loved ones. Unless it is the dog and I’m putting her in ridiculous outfits and then it’s just downright funny.

I do not, however, enjoy the experience of Yom Kippur. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to. I mean repenting, in general, isn’t the most fun task one can partake in. And fasting? Oh the fasting. As a rule, fasting must be taxing or else you certainly aren’t doing it right. So fasting and repenting, repenting and fasting all the live long day.

Oh and lest I forget the services at temple. Where I wish I could turn off the giant neon Non-Jew sign that appears over my head the instant I walk through the synagogue doors. Its incessant blinking only annoys the other congregants. I am like a child playing Simon Says except Simon is giving directions in ancient Hebraic prayers. I watch my husband for the cues when to stand, when to sit, when to do the hokey pokey and turn myself around.

As an American, it is ingrained in my psyche to always do. Do something at all times. Multitask. Be relevant. Move your ass. Entertainment and work are America’s biggest exports. No wonder we cannot relax.

Yom Kippur defies every instinct to constantly be on the move. I don’t know how to not do. I don’t know how to take pleasure in the nothing. It has always been difficult for me to not focus on when Yom Kippur is ending and rather take this each minute of the day for what it ought to be. Reflecting on my life. The year ahead, the year past, my blessings, my faults. God’s infinite love.

This has been my experience with Yom Kippur.

Our first Yom Kippur in Israel, I expected no different. But here, in a country where Yom Kippur is everyone’s holy day, where every store is closed, every television station is off, every street empty of cars, the guilt of not doing faded away. Almost intrinsically, I forgot about my grumbling tummy and what I could be doing and instead focused on enjoying the silence. I took pleasure in time to myself and to reflect on God’s presence in my everyday.

Late on the eve of Yom Kippur, DH and I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood. We expected a quiet walk on an empty street, instead we were met with peals of laughter from neighborhood children and the screeching of their bicycle tires.

As we turned the corner to the main street, we witnessed hundreds of kids playing in the middle of the street, old couples walking hand in hand, young parents with their new shiny babies in their new shiny strollers. It was an experience to behold. The entire neighborhood, the entire country it seemed had come out to take time to enjoy the life and family God has blessed them with. Not an experience one would witness in the States.

Halfway through our walk, DH asked me if I was happy. “Happy?, Yes, I am very happy,” I told him. But I do hope this happiness turns to contentment. I feel happiness is fleeting. One cannot be happy all the time. Maybe a good percent of the time, but not all the time. Other feelings, sadness, anger, loneliness can come in and steal your happiness away. Take its place, set up residence and live there for as long as it likes. You can sink into contentment, make a home, make a life. Other emotions may stop in for a visit, but you live there in contentment.

Our first Yom Kippur in Israel was as it should be. It reminded me that I am happy and grateful for this experience and God’s blessings.


  1. I have a feeling I may have made a good Jew. I can sit for hours in front of the bay and think, relax, enjoy the world as God made it. Oh well, I am a born again Christian, thank you God.

  2. Mom, you taught me to enjoy God's presence in the silence. Thank you!