Easy, Fast? What Yom Kippur Isn’t

yom-kippur-ecards-free-yom-kippur-cards-funny-yom-kippur-11The last hours of 5774 are waning in the rearview mirror, and once again I find myself famisht.

This evening begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, our one last chance at tshuvah — redemption — for the coming year. As the cover of the Book of Life starts to close this evening with the Kol Nidre service and stays open just a crack, we fast and pray for our names and those we love to be written inside.

It’s very nerve-wracking. First off, there’s all the meditating on all the ways a person can perish — fire, water, sword, stoning, wild beast, strangulation — I swear, the Unetaneh Tokef prayer is like a Game of Thrones production meeting.

Then there’s the assumption that we’re all basically hopeless assholes with no chance in (the) hell (we don’t believe in) that we’re going to escape God’s wrath. We Jews don’t go in for much talk about sin for the rest of the year, but on Yom Kippur, every one of us has a soul as filthy as the bottoms of the rivers and oceans that we’ve polluted on this glorious green earth.

I like to think of myself as a Pretty Good Person. To the best of my knowledge and limited self-perception, I don’t lie, cheat or steal, unless you count picking gardenias out of the vacant rental property across the street. I visit with my mother-in-law as she wastes away ever-so-slowly. I go out of my way to be nice to people working shitty jobs. I write small checks to dozens of charities, mostly the ones with the most heart-wrenching photos on their marketing materials. And in spite of the fact that no jury would convict me, I have not slapped or punched anyone in the throat this year.

But on Yom Kippur, I come face-to-face with the ugly reality that I didn’t do enough for others this year. I broke promises to myself and to my family. I’ve been lazy and wasteful with money, time and food. I’ve colluded — unconsciously, helplessly, but still — with the greedy capitalistic Godzilla machine that continues exploit other humans so that my children can wear affordable school khakis from the GAP.

I’m not even really that nice. I judge others for their wardrobe mishaps and parenting skills. I talk endless shit about people who annoy me. I pretended to forget to sign up to bring snack to Little Yenta Girl’s class when I really just didn’t feel like it. I have had the chutzpah to kvetch and feel miserable when my life is nothing but a series of beautiful blessings.

On Yom Kippur, we wish each other an “easy fast,” but nothing about this day ought to be easy or fast. It’s humbling to be locked up in synagogue all day as the tummy rumbles and the mind grumbles and the heart contracts with shame and guilt. Every time I get distracted by my own discomfort, I borrow from the Buddhists and bring myself back to the moment, remembering that the “severe decree” of this day can be tempered by tefillah, tzedakeh, teshuvah: Prayer, charity and repentance.

I think I’d rather have a meaningful fast than an easy one, a day of rigorous self-examination that inspires me to do better this year, to be more patient and generous and hopefully a little less of an asshole when things don’t go my way.

But even the most observant say there’s no reason to suffer unnecessarily: Ha’aretz’s “14 Tips to Make the Fast Easier” advises to drink lots of water today and don’t shtuff yourself at the last meal of the year.

Also, this isn’t the time to be “faddish” about carbs—better to eat bread than protein this evening, since “leisurely digesting meat which takes a lot of water from your body that you’re not replenishing, is asking for toilet-mouth and ‘furry’ teeth.”

Gross. Guess I’ll pass on my father-in-law’s chicken this evening. But I’ll do my very best not to judge others’ this Yom Kippur, especially tomorrow afternoon when a noxious cloud of bad breath hangs in the air above the sanctuary like a pack of hyperventilating Dementors has come to visit.

L’shanah tovah to all y’all. May you and yours be judged mercifully and with compassion, and may 5775 be the best year yet.

Yom Kippur and Synagogue Etiquette, Or, Sorry For Judging Your Shoes

imagesAs we dial down to the last of the Days of Awe, we Jews look a little closer at our motives and mistakes. We examine our souls like we’re cleaning out the cupboards of chametz with a scrubby sponge and some heavy-duty spray cleaner (non-toxic and environmentally friendly, of course.)

I haven’t had many moments in this week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to reflect on my sins, but I did a little time in the garden yesterday, going over the past year as I weeded the okra.

Here’s what I have come up with so far: I am judgmental bitch.

For reals. I like to think I’m a tolerant, peace-loving earth mother who welcomes everyone into my muumuu of organic cooking and DIY spirituality, but I have critical streak as wide as RuPaul’s bald spot. It’s mostly reserved for hypocritical morons who try to impose their morality on women’s bodies, but I realized while I was picking bugs off the squash that I am totally guilty of turning my Stink Eye on my own people.

I am talking about Synagogue Etiquette. I have developed a certain idea about how you show up to Temple, and I spent a nice chunk of last Thursday’s service eyeballing people who IMHO were not observing the basic threshold of decent behavior and/or attire.

Yes, I should have been focused on the liturgy or at least sounding out the Avinu Malkaynu without the transliteration. But instead I started obsessing over the following choices made by my fellow congregants, keeping up a rude inner dialogue:

Denim. People, it’s a house of worship. Find your way to the back of your closet and extract something other than what you wore to the Sand Gnats game last night.

Sequins. Unless you are under 8 years old or over 80, you look like you’re going clubbing with Lady Gaga. At no point during the service will the black lights come on and rabbi bust out with turntables on the bima.

Flip-flops. No matter how much modern culture devolves, my feelings on this will never change: They’re shower shoes and don’t belong in public. Let alone in the same sanctuary with the fabulous 95 year-old balabusta rocking the sequins.

Cell phones. Seriously, you need to be told? Totally busted the guy behind me checking the Yahoo news scroll during the Amidah. WTF? And btw, Torah trumps football scores (yes, even if Georgia is playing, El Yenta Man!)

Chit Chat. Maybe you’re not riveted by the rabbi’s sermon, but some of us are trying to pray, or like, think about shit. I’m not gonna take an ad out in the paper or anything, but SHHHH. Also, the Talmud says God will strike you dead. Or worse.

See? I’m a terrible person.

As much as we’re supposed to ask God for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, we’re also supposed to make peace with our fellow humans in order to be written into the Book of Life for another year.

So I’ll make a deal with you, fellow Jews. Maybe y’all could forgive me for judging you and maybe you’d consider not wearing stupid stuff and talking in shul and we can all have a blessed Holy day and an easy fast.

But we’re all human, so no guarantees, right?

‘Cause it might look like I’m sitting there davening along with the V’Havta but I’m probably just whispering “Why does that assh*ole keep putting his feet on the back of the pew?”