Tonight at Sundown, Yom Kippur begins.
Yom Kippur is the Jewish “Day of Atonement.” It falls each year on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Yom Kippur is a day to reflect on the past year and ask for forgiveness for any sins.
Ten days ago, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During these ten days, which we call the ten days of repentance, we contemplate what we would like to let go, forgive, and also take with us into this next year. Yom Kippur is referred to as the “Days of Repentence” or “Days of Awe” – a time when Jews can make a commitment to not repeat wrongs made in the last year.
How do you “repent?”
Well, traditionally, no food and drink is consumed for 25 hours, but as someone who has been “unwell” and unable to eat or drink for six years, I am not required to fast – thankfully!
Yom Kippur may seem solemn, as we spend the entire day starving in synagogue. But it is a beautifully contemplative holiday. We actually have to stop, pause and reflect on what this year has been for us, and think about what we’d like to forgive so we can not forget, but move forward.
Because as Detourists, that’s our only choice, right?
“For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before G‑d” (Leviticus 16:30).
As solemn as Yom Kippur is, there is a life-affirming, delicious joy that lies beneath. It’s the joy that comes from relishing our spirituality, and what a sacred gift it is to be on this earth. There is joy in the idea that we can move on from whatever feels “wrong” in our life, and there is ALWAYS a chance for renewal, for life, health and happiness.
And the payoff is grand. The holiday concludes with a service, followed by glorious song and dance, a a single blast of the shofar, and then that wonderfully promising proclamation, “Next year in Jerusalem.” We are STARVING by this point, and get to finally indulge (and APPRECIATE) a delicious meal. The ending of after Yom Kippur is surely the sweetest.
Next Year In Jerusalem – my favorite phrase
As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, I believe that their strength and spirit enabled me to survive, inspiring a spirituality-fueled resilience. Because I fell into a coma the night my family’s Passover seder, this holiday has always symbolized redemption and liberation as I healed through a decade of trauma. As I endured six years unable to eat or drink a drop of fluid, the phrase, “Next Year in Jerusalem” took on an entirely new meaning, while my family waited eagerly to celebrate holidays with food and health once again.
“Next Year in Jerusalem,” we’d recite every Passover, while table remained bare and our fridge was only filled with intravenous nutrition – the only thing that was able to sustain me. And finally, it happened – six years later we could finally eat on Passover.
As difficult as this was, sometimes we need a little wake up call, to remind ourselves what to be grateful for.
Wake Up!!! And Live!
And that’s what Yom Kippur is – our wake up call. Literally – because doesn’t the shofar kind of sound like an alarm clock? Hello! Wake up! Your life is waiting! So start appreciating it before it passes you by!
To remember to always stay appreciative and grateful, I like to remember an old Hasidic story – basically that a huge ball of divine energy fell onto earth and shattered into a million pieces. Those pieces got trapped in every day objects.
That’s where WE come in, as humans that use many different objects every day!
It’s the job of all humans to set these shattered pieces free by using them and in doing so releasing beauty into the world. Anything that is useful is thus beautiful by definition, because it grounds us in our purpose on earth. Anything that illuminates meaning, or sheds light on our own individual truth of why we are here, why we personally contribute, is a beautiful thing.
Hearing this Hasidic story over and over as a child gave me a powerful tool – the power to elevate the everyday – to find joy in whatever our surroundings are – a resourcefulness-based resilience and happiness. We can take advantage of the usefulness of practical things that assist us in our everyday lives and use them to find meaning. As a teenager, this idea sounded cooler to me than the latest cell-phone feature.
Tikkun Olam – Repair the World!
That philosophy, also known as Tikkun Olam, set the stage for my life as a teenager. When my friends were throwing big parties for their sweet sixteens, my dream was to spend it at Kutcher’s resort in the Catskills celebrating Passover, eating dense, flourless matzoh-meal birthday cake, then walking among my beloved trees, inspired by everything around me.
Tikkun Olam is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world – basically, it’s our job to be kind, appreciative, and aware of all of the beauty around us, or as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said:
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
So, that’s what Yom Kippur means to me. We may have to spend the whole day in temple, starving and in really uncomfortable high heels, but it’s our chance to pause, and take stock, and really think about what we want to take into the next year with us.
What do we need to “repent?”
So that’s where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is healing.
“Healing” has meant different things to me at various points in my life. As a child, healing took forever when I skinned my knee running around outside. As a teen, healing also meant crying on the phone to a friend when the “guy of my dreams” was taken. But “healing” took a completely new meaning – on the inside and out – when my life and world as I knew it changed forever.
When I turned 17, a mentor-figure in my life who I had known and looked up to for several years transformed into a complete stranger when he started to molest me. I went into total shock and coped by leaving my body and staying numb. This father-figure in my life who I completely trusted had broken our sacred bond in a split second, and suddenly I didn’t know who I could rely in. I kept this secret burning in my gut, hidden from my family, who didn’t recognize the numb space-cadet I had become.
I woke up months later in the ICU of a hospital to learn I’ve been in a coma for months. All I remember is being in intense pain and then my parents rushing me to the ER. Now I am told by doctors that my stomach exploded due to a blood clot, I have no digestive system, and it is not known when or if I will ever eat again.
What happened to me medically is another story, but a decade later I am happy, healthy and still healing. The sexual trauma took years and years to heal from – and I feel that it is something you continually heal and learn from.
It took a very long time to verbalize the abuse, to tell someone and the hardest of all, to tell myself. And then, I had to forgive myself. I consciously knew I had nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty for, but it took a very long time to truly embody this feeling.
I learned that it’s not always about forgiving the other person. It’s letting go and forgiving yourself.
It’s feeling comfortable in your own skin again – even if it was the same skin that took part in things you’d like to forget. With Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, you can fight, flee or freeze. I often wonder why I didn’t “fight back” against my molester, say no, or just run in the other direction. But I symbolically ran – I left my body and froze – I couldn’t allow myself to think I was being abused in this way, that my innocence was snatched up in a heartbeat. Unthawing my soul once again and feeling it in my body has taken much time and patience. And now that I feel like me again – but older, wiser, and stronger – I can feel.
I thought I had found the love of my life just a year ago, and this Yom Kippur, I will be asking forgiveness from myself as I move forward from a very difficult divorce. I felt anger, fear, hurt, terror, frustration, anxiety, confusion.
But once again, I learned it’s not always about forgiving the other person. It’s letting go and forgiving yourself.
Because events, people, and circumstances come and go, but you always have yourself.
So, forgive yourself so you can move on to new events, people, and circumstances, which will always come and go. But only YOU can repair the world.
Only you can live Tikkun Olam.
Coming out of my numbness, my disassociation, and allowing myself to confront life again head on has been difficult, and some truths have been hard to face. But ultimately it has been a blessing. I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.
And for that, I feel gratitude.