What is Yom Kippur

Today is the day Jews take to ask for forgiveness and to be forgiven. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, tashlikh or”cast away” is a ritual that is done between the New Year and Yom Kippur. One would throw bread pieces into the water and  the current would wash these carbolicious sins away as we asked for atonement or forgiveness for them. When I was a child the very thought of throwing any food into a river made me frown since on Yom Kippur we fast from Sundown the night before to sundown on the day. 24 hours of not eating to a kid might as well be in eternity.

I remember when I was little this was the holiday we disliked the most not because of what it symbolized but because we couldn’t do anything. We could not eat all day and we had to go to shul not just for our usual 4 to 5 hours but also for the entire day to pray. We couldn’t drive to our friends house (more religous Jews  walk to shul anyway) . We couldn’t watch TV or flip in the light switch. As we were older my parents became a little more lenient and told us to leave the TV on a channel we wanted but we couldn’t touch it after that. They were sick of us complaining for a decade about how bored we were I suppose . As a kid, I rememeber wearing my stink face, thinking about how my stockings were cutting off my circulation and my eyes glazing over after hour 2 and wondering when we would leave. We had to keep our siddur (prayer books) on the right page or my friend’s grandfather would walk down the aisle to make sure we were. He always knew when we weren’t paying attention (or when my brother and I snuck non religous reading paraphernalia behind the thick cover of the siddurs). Sometimes all I would see would be a hand grab my book and flip to the right page. The only thing that made up for it was when Sundown approached at the end of the holiday, we would do what we normally would do on any Jewish holiday- stuff ourselves until our stomach hurt.

I remember my Rabbi with such fond memories that seeing and hearing him sing almost made up for staring at the stained glass windows for hours on end. He was a short, bearded, kind Frenchman who saw my brother and myself grow up. At the end of Friday night services there would always be a spread of cookies, challah, and tiny little 2 oz plastic cups of wine. Then I would manage to sneak one and when he would catch me, he would just give me a wink and turn the other way. He would also tell me to load up my plate even after I had seconds. Jews express love through food. Shocker right?

Even though I am not religious today, I hold those memories dear to me. I kept my daughter home from school, even after she begged to go. I want her to remember that whether you are religious or not this day is important. It’s important that we remember to be kind. I want her to be kinder than me because I hold on to grudges. It’s hard for me to forgive people who have wronged me and my loved ones. People who say they are friends or family but put themselves first and selfishly only come to us when they need something. Maybe I should forget those people first because they can not see past their own selfish behaviors. But when do we start taking responsibility for ourselves as adults? Why should I be the only one who takes responsibility and be the bigger person? In fact I always tell my husband to be the bigger person and to be kind. But secretly it’s hard for me to forgive and forget. I cannot do either.

So, religion aside, I need this day. Of course it’s good to have this behaviour every day but today stands out as a reminder of how we should be all the time: Warm, caring, full of forgiveness. It is a day we cast our sins away and watch them disappear under the flowing water . And then once we have asked Gd to forgive us and forgive others, do the only thing we look forward to on all special holy days…eat until we burst.

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