My husband and I spent this Yom Kippur alone. It was probably the first time in our lives that we have done so. There were many reasons for this—some circumstances, others by choice. Our sons are scattered around the country, my husband’s travel schedule landed him back in town just before Kol Nidre began, we no longer belong to a synagogue and as it turned out, I had the stomach flu.
I have a long and confused history with my Judaism that has more to do with the formal practice than anything else. But when the holidays arrive that confusion rears its head and I feel a mixture of dread, guilt and longing. They do not play nicely.
I love being Jewish. I have never, ever wanted to be anything else. But I cannot connect to the teachings or the pomp and circumstance that seemed, in my younger years to run parallel with the practice of religion. Buying new clothes, dressing up in your finest and making a trip to the safety deposit box for your best jewelry, etc. seemed contradictory to the struggles and plight of our people. And so I struggled.
There was a time when I looked to the High Holy days as a time for contemplation and quiet. It signaled the beginning of a new season, a time of color and freshness. I loved the family closeness and walking to Temple with my sons. I also remember my 4 year-old-son sitting under a tree on our front lawn and adamantly refusing to attend services. He said simply, “I hate that building and I’m not going.” That building was our Temple. He went on to point out that the new khaki’s and button down shirt were stiff and uncomfortable and he wasn’t sitting “so long in stupid clothes.” But most poignant and real—out of his little boy mouth spilled this question: “If God is everywhere, why can’t I sit under this tree and talk to him from here?” I had no answer.
As I developed a disciplined meditation practice, I struggled more with practicing Judaism in a formal way. I still have no idea if the two are related. I gravitate to Buddhism while never considering any more than a sliver of the practice. The teachings call to me in a way that the formal practice of Judaism does not. “…When you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” This quote has been attributed to BUDDHA. I like it. I share in its wisdom.
Sharon Salzburg co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., and has taught spirituality and meditation for 35 years. She is Jewish by birth and has never disconnected from her Jewish roots and its traditions. But she could never really relate to the teachings and religious practice. When asked why so many Jews have become “meditation gurus”? She writes: “My generation of Jewish people often had quite secular upbringings, and there was a spiritual longing that wasn’t finding a form within Judaism.” Maybe this has something to do with my own lack of connection or disconnection.
But I missed the celebration of the New Year, my family and the closeness this year. On the eve of Kol Nidre, I yearned for the voice of the Cantor, the incomparable haunting, loveliness of the Kol Nidre prayer. I missed the tradition of it all; the long walks in the fall air and the acknowledgment of being Jewish. I do not know how to reconcile my disconnection with my yearning for the family traditions. I do know how to be present for the Cantor’s song and leave soon after. The prayer pierces my soul for reasons unknown but it calls for attention and fulfillment. I vow next year to do it all differently although I have no idea what that different will look like. It seems I have made my first resolution of the New Year.
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