Yom Kippur is not exactly a “fun” holiday, but when it’s over, there is a wonderful feeling of having a fresh start, of beginning anew.
This year, we began our holiday with a light pre-fast supper with our friends Gary and JoAnn. Deli meats, salad, that sort of thing. Stuffing oneself with a Big Feed prior to a lengthy fast sounds like a good idea; years of experience have taught me that it is not. Instead, we ate sparingly and loaded up on fluids before heading over to shul for Kol Nidre services.
Because SWMBO and JoAnn had ticket duty, we had to be there early. We arrived at the synagogue at 5:15 pm, a full hour and fifteen minutes before the start of services. This meant that we could snag good parking spots and seats; it also meant starting our fast earlier than usual. You win some, you lose some.
The place was packed. Yom Kippur brings even the least observant Jews out of the woodwork, much as Easter services will flush out the most casual of Christians. We probably had close to 2,600 attendees, a six- or sevenfold increase over the usual Saturday morning crowd.
Gary correctly predicted that services would be over at 9:45. It’s not easy, handicapping the service time. The ritual part is predictable, but how long the synagogue president’s speech and the rabbi’s sermon will run is anybody’s guess. As it happens, both were of reasonable length, and both were excellent. I even managed to stay awake for the entire sermon, although that may have been due to my sitting in direct line of the Rabbi’s watchful eye. SWMBO and I were home and in bed well before 10:30.
Monday morning, we were up at what the Mistress of Sarcasm calls “the butt-crack of dawn,” the better to secure good parking spots and our favorite seats. We arrived at 6:45 am, with services starting at 8:30. With allowance for “Jewish time,” it was closer to 8:45 when things got underway.
By the time 11:30 rolled around, it was time for the Yizkor sermon. Yizkor, the special memorial service held four times a year, is especially poignant on Yom Kippur, when it rates its own special sermon. Our Rabbi is a master at wringing tears from even the most hardened and cynical eyes with his Yizkor sermons, and this one was no exception...for who among us has not suffered some sort of loss?
From my vantage point on the Bimah, I could see the entire congregation - 2,600 strong - during the Yizkor sermon. And it wasn’t easy.
I could see Albert, who had buried his wife only three days earlier.
I could see Ina, Gravel-Voice Larry’s widow, sitting next to SWMBO.
I could see Chelo, who had lost her husband just a few months ago.
I could see Debbie, whose mother had passed away in January.
And I could see the family whose son had celebrated his Bar Mitzvah just this past Saturday. The young man had been exceptionally poised and self-assured, all the more remarkable because his mother is in the final stages of breast cancer. As he gave his speech that day, there was not a dry eye in the house...and now, two days later, here was the entire family for what, sadly, is likely to be their last Yom Kippur together.
As soon as services concluded, SWMBO and I headed home for our traditional Yom Kippur nap. Then, rather than heading back at 5:30 for the afternoon (Minchah) service, we took the leisurely approach, showing up at 7:00 to catch the concluding (Ne’ilah) service.
Later that evening, as the Shofar sounded to mark the end of the day and we headed out to break the fast - now 27 hours and counting - I thought of Days of Atonement past. Yom Kippur in Massapequa, as a child barely able to understand what was going on. Yom Kippur in Houston with a college friend, the first one far from home. Yom Kippur in Connecticut, the air crisp and the synagogue parking lot awash with colorful fallen leaves, my heart aching with the loss of my mother. Yom Kippur in Atlanta five years ago, when Elder Daughter delivered a beautiful, touching sermon. Each one is the same, and yet each one is different, touching my emotions in new and unexpected ways. And each one a fresh start, the slate wiped clean, the tabula once again rasa.
It’s a good feeling.