I am what some may call Jew-ish. I was born from a Jewish vagina (David Cross said it, not me) and to a father whose religion I have never actually known—Protestant? Lutheran? Flying Spaghetti Monster? Beats me.
Though my household was never a religious one, my sister and I were exposed to both Judaism and some sect of Christianity in addition to ideas, beliefs and stories from non-traditional creeds. From an exceptionally young age I was allowed to choose my beliefs in matters of spirituality, faith and religion. For years I chose agnosticism but around the age of nine I found myself terribly intrigued by Judaism and its long standing traditions, unique culture and mystifying mysticism.
For the next six years my parents took turns schlepping me to Synagogue on Friday nights for Shabbat, to Hebrew classes and Judaic studies on Sunday mornings and across town to my Rabbi’s house when I started to study for my Bat-Mitzvah. I was borderline-obsessed with my temple youth group and even started to teach Hebrew and Judaic studies to 5th graders.
I will never forget the day that I realized the Hebrew prayers leaving my mouth were no longer connected to my heart, the day I knew I would live out the rest of my life in the absence of organized religion. That day was over 13 years ago and the sentiment is as true today as it was in that prolific moment.
But I still cherish the culture and traditions of Judaism. At its core Judaism promotes acceptance, tolerance and curiosity. Inherent in Judaism are comfort foods, wise teachings, strong morals, family values and exciting traditions. I still light Hanukkah candles each year though I have stopped sharing my wine with Elijah at Passover because good wine do be expensive. I will always light yahrzeit candles on the anniversary of certain deaths. And tonight, as I do every year, I honor the time-old tradition of erev Yom Kippur.
Jewish tradition holds that the Book of Life is opened each year on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in order for god to inscribe each person’s fate into the book for the coming year. The book is then “sealed” ten days later on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Yom Kippur is a deeply religious and holy day, a time for repentance, confessions of guilt, amending mistakes and asking god (and others) for forgiveness. Yom Kippur is typically observed with a sundown-to-sundown long fast and concentrated prayer.
Each year on Yom Kippur I participate in the sundown-to-sundown fast. I do not fast so that a god I do not believe in will cleanse me and absolve me of my alleged turpitudes. I fast instead so that I may feel the connection between my body and my mind, so that I may be reminded that we already possess our most important essence within us.
I do not believe that I will be inscribed in any book but I do believe that as a collective human species we would all be better off if we spent more time amending our wrongdoings, demonstrating repentance to those that we have hurt, and asking for (and granting) ourselves and others forgiveness. It is for this reason that I say that Yom Kippur isn’t just for Jews but that people of all creeds can be inspired to seek atonement, practice forgiveness and improve their souls.
I am sure that those who are more than just Jew-ish will disagree. The practicing Jews will say that Yom Kippur is not about personal reflection or private resolution but rather that it is about connecting to god. If I believed in a god, I would think he would appreciate knowing that us humans embody the ability to feel remorse, to seek connection, to grant forgiveness and to strive for growth no matter how flawed we may be.
I realize this post may have offended some, but luckily I can just ask for forgiveness.