Thoughts of Yom Kippur, far, far away from home:
Yom Kippur is one of those days that it’s really hard to be away from Israel. It’s one of those special days that you can actually feel the absence of Israel around you. There are other days like this, for example Yom Hazicaron, of course (Israeli Memorial Day), and Yom Ha’atsmaut (Israeli Independence Day), but at least for me, Yom Kippur is probably the strongest one. In a way, Yom Kippur in Israel is the ultimate Shabbat. For 24 hours everything in the whole country shuts down. For 24 hours there are no cars on the roads. It sounds crazy, almost hard to believe if you weren’t there to see it with your own eyes (I’m sure it would have been for me), but it’s true. Try to imagine for a moment, close your eyes and try to imagine what it would be like if for 24 hours there would be no cars in the whole U.S. You go out of your house, and pretty much everyone you know is there, wearing white, walking slowly on the roads, just because they can. In some places you can lay on the road, in others there are kids and teenagers driving bicycles (for secular kids In Israel, Yom Kippur also known as the bicycle holiday). When you’re in Israel for You Kippur, for 24 hours it feels like the whole world is wearing a different atmosphere, a holy atmosphere.
Even if you don’t believe in God or Yom Kippur, even if you didn’t want to do any Heshbon Nefesh (Introspection), Yom Kippur is right there, around you, and you can’t run away from it. Yom Kippur is one of those days that I feel blessed to live in a Jewish country. It’s not always easy, it’s not always good, but in this day the country, the community just give you power. It’s like the whole country gives you a pat on the back and tells you this day is important enough to stop everything else. It doesn’t matter if you’re secular or religious, man or a woman this day gives you the wonderful and hard opportunity to stop, to reflect, to look deep inside yourself and to work with what you see. Here, in California, in Marin County the world does not stand still, nothing will confront us with Heshbon Nefesh if we would like to keep on with our life instead. Here we need to choose Yom Kippur, we need to choose the atonement. The country won’t give you a pat on the back. Here you need to choose your community that will give you power. I think it’s amazing how many people here are committed to this day, maybe more than any other day in the Jewish calendar. Amazing how many people committed to this holy work of confession of sin and atonement. That holy work is what makes us so human, as Wislawa Szymborska wrote in her poem, In Praise of Self-Deprecation:
The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the Black Panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.
The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.
The killer whale's heart weighs one hundred kilos
but in other respects it is light.
There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.
Wislawa is not Israeli, she is not Jewish but this poem symbolizes for me a lot of the meaning of Yom Kippur. I want to share with you my take on it – there is nothing more animal-like than a clean conscience, there is nothing more human-like than doing mistake, and there is nothing more Jewish than a Jewish guilt. So if confession of sin and atonement is so Jewish and so important that the whole state of Israel stops everything for 24 hours, so important that our congregants here in Marin county and this year including me choose to come to temple and do their own Heshbon Nefesh, so important that Jewish people fasting all around the world, how come we’re doing it only once a year? Yom Kippur is our day to look up to the sky, or deep inside the heart, and say I’m sorry. It’s our opportunity to just for one day close our eyes so we can truly forgive others and to ourselves. We have one day, to look at ourselves, to look at our actions and our life, to get clean and free, so that every other day we can open big eyes to look at the world and look at one another. And when Yom Kippur is over, and we’re coming back to real life with all of our regrets from the past year and all the promises for the new year to come - that’s when the hard work begin.
Good luck and Shana Tova,