Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yom Kippur

I keep trying to write about Yom Kippur and the emotional ups and downs of the day, but nothing I write really captures what it was like, especially this year. Rather than try to compose something coherent, I'll just give you the following loose thoughts and I'll abandon hope of deftly stringing them together .

Moments before we sat down to our pre-fast meal, I received an email holiday greeting from someone who hasn't responded to me for the last nine months. I took it as a good sign.

Kol Nidrei was hot, crowded, and an emotional kick in the gut as expected. Another Jewish homeschooling mama does a far better job than I could explaining this beautiful service here. The past year has been hard in so many ways and I had plenty for which to feel regret.

My moral shortcomings, upon which I'd meditated all evening, were abruptly forgotten upon leaving the building as we walked to our car with a number of young women who were The Dark Lord's classmates for years. Their laughter was indescribably soothing. I couldn't help thinking how silly and somber we grownups must seem on Yom Kippur when you're fourteen and all your big mistakes lie in the future, unimagined.

A first: all my children got up and got dressed in suitable clothing without a fuss, allowing us plenty of time to arrive at morning services promptly. I was already deep into my fasting headache, so not having to struggle was a blessing.

I spent most of the morning not in prayer, but in the child care room fulfilling a promise I'd made to help out. There are both good and bad sides to a highly participatory congregation and I missed far less than many of my fellow congregants. My only complaint? I missed MonkeyBoy leading the Ashrei prayer (Psalm 145 if you're counting). It's something of an honor to asked to lead this, and I had worried about his panicking in front of the hundreds of folks who show up on Yom Kippur. Due to my obligations elsewhere in the building, I missed it, but I heard he was a star and I couldn't help but kvell just slightly when people came up to him throughout the day and praised him.

Yom Kippur is an all day deal, but there's a 2 hour break mid afternoon. I was feeling quite light headed by this point (no food will do that) and we went home for a quick nap. Sometimes I stick around as I find it easier to focus when I stay in the building, but the nap was just what I needed and I returned for the last few hours able to concentrate on the work at hand.

The last part of Yom Kippur services always feel just slightly hysterical to me: there's all the imagery of the closing of the gates, the last minute hopes for another year. Everyone is hungry, tired, hungry, hot, hungry and yes, even a bit hungry. But there's also an incredible sense of joy at the end of the day. On a personal level, I felt like I did the work I needed to do and getting through the fast always makes me feel strong. Being with a couple of hundred people who've been through the same thing is slightly euphoric. In the years when I haven't fasted (due to pregnancy, nursing, or health issues) I haven't had the same feeling. Maybe it's just a weird tribal thing, but I like it--it's deeply satisfying.

But The Holidays, of course, are not yet over. Today was spent planning, shopping for parts, and starting to build a new sukkah. After all the pomp and formality of the last couple of weeks, it's time for Sukkot, one of the best holidays ever. Stay tuned.


Tikkunknitter said...

L'shanah tovah!
How delightful to have found your musings, and someone else who thinks Sukkot is one of the best holidays we have in the calendar, and another knitter for whom needlework and Judaism intersect frequently. I look forward to reading about (and learning from) you and your family's journeys.

shula said...

So, favourite source of information on Jewish Culture.

In 20 words or less, what IS Yom Kippur.

Can you even believe I don't know?

Magpie Ima said...

In 20 words or less: Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement.

It's the annual day of confession and contemplation of our wrongdoings. Of course we don't limit such thoughts to one day, but this is a day when we really immerse ourselves. There's the fast, of course. No food or water from sundown to sundown. We also dress in white and forgo bathing, makeup, perfume, sex, and leather shoes--all in the hopes of keeping us focused on the work of the day.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Yes, yes! It is extremely satisfying at the end with the closing of the gates! There is this joy--even in the years when I have struggled with my perfectionist critic whispering into my ears. And the fasting does cause me to go into an altered state, that makes it all so incredibly real and meaningful.

Anne said...

Don't you think child care is a form of prayer?
So glad to have found your blog. The photos are gorgeous, even the damp ones.

Magpie Ima said...

Thanks for the nice comments on the photos, Anne. Now I'm curious--are you walking-stick Anne?