On Practicing the Mitzvoth

Okay y’all. I’ll be talking a little bit about religion– and it probably won’t be from your perspective. If this offends you, leave now.

Lately I have been having a wonderful discussion with my dear friend, Sunshyne. She is a devout Christian, and a wonderful example of walking the walk. It truly is an honor to have her in my circle, not only because of the integrity with which she carries herself, but also because she is so open with me about topics that people usually get so… defensive about. So over the last two weeks or so, the conversation has drifted to religion.

Tangent: If you know me at all, you know that I was raised Jewish and currently practice Other. I think the name Jewitch– cleverly introduced to me by Arcana– sums it up nicely. In short, Sunshyne and I have fairly different approaches to deity.

One of the things we touched upon briefly was the purpose of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I was explaining that YK is one of the two High Holy Days of Judaism: if you go to Temple for nothing else, you should go for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur. I was then explaining that because the High Holy Days are the Big Two, Jews who never ever come to Temple come out of the woodwork for those two days. Tickets are sold– just because space is so limited! Rooms and rooms and rooms you didn’t know existed are opened up. CCTV circuits are set up so congregants who cannot fit in the sanctuary can still see and hear the Rabbi. In short, for someone like me who has crowd issues, it’s a nightmare. Night. Mare.

And then I mentioned how I still celebrate RH my own way. I love the sound of the shofar (the ram’s horn in the image above)– and if there were something that could get me to go to that bloody circus, that would be it, but there are so many other traditions tied up in celebrating the Holidays, that I can usually bypass the shofar. My favorite is to pick up a round challah and some honey, and share the meaning behind the bread and honey (apples and honey also work) to welcome a sweet new year.

But I don’t celebrate Yom Kippur.

I had my reasons for stopping, and at the time they were good ones. My final experience with membership in a synagogue was pretty terrible. The members there acted like every bad stereotype of Jews that you can think of. It was… unpleasant. Add to that I was being forced to go, after years of not going, in a new state where I was experiencing total culture shock, in the middle of high school during my rebellion age, and right after my parents’ separation. The cards were kind of stacked against it on that one.

Week after week, I sat there and watched the same people with their same fake smiles refuse to talk to my mother, because she didn’t have a wealthy husband and was barely scraping by. “If this is what it means to be Jewish,” I thought, “I’m out.” I graduated high school and started my search for Something Better, which I eventually found. (In the meantime, my mother found also found something better, but for her it was in the form of a Synagogue that actually welcomed and supported her. Wonderful for her, but too late to be of use to me.)

I met Rose in college. A devout Christian, she was fascinated to finally meet a Real Jew– a status I hotly denied at first: I was not like Them. After many conversations– and a couple of years of being Not Jewish, I finally acceded that I was, in fact, culturally Jewish, if not religiously. That was the point when I began picking and choosing.

For Passover (the one where you eat drywall matzah), I eat pizza (which is flat, if not unleavened) and watch Prince Of Egypt (retelling the story of Exodus). For Chanukah, I say prayers as I light the candles of menorah. For Rosh Hashanah, I share round bread and honey, wishing my loved ones a sweet new year. I can never really get into Purim (a carnival holiday with costumes, noisemakers, and cookies!!!), although Esther’s story is probably my favorite of all the holiday stories– I think I’ve always been too intimated to make hamentachen (the cookies), although I have a nut-based recipe now that I’m dying to try. Hmm. Perhaps when it rolls around next year…?

But for Yom Kippur, I do nothing.

For a long time, it was an empty holiday for me. The meaning behind it seemed so false. Forgiveness and atonement? Please! Look at the state of Israel. Where’s the forgiveness? Even the people in my Temple– any of them I went to growing up– the kids were all shits to me both before and after YK. False holiday. AND! No food. I mean, not that it doesn’t have traditional food, I mean you’re supposed to fast. No. Food. This is definitely not my holiday.


Over the past few years I’ve learned a thing or two about forgiveness. Okay, you know that phrase, “Forgive and forget”? It’s a lie. Or maybe it’s just for someone more spiritually advanced than me. In the past few years I have learned that there’s a significant difference between forgiving someone and forgetting what they’ve done. True forgiveness is about accepting that something has happened, without anger or malice, and being willing to let it lie, to release it from controlling you. It’s not possible, at least not for me, to go through this process and then forget that it happened, because I use these experiences to learn more about myself and the people involved. I have also discovered how much more relaxed I am when I am able to forgive; I no longer carry the anger/rage/hurt with me every day. It has left a light spot in me, where it used to weigh me down.

And there is an entire holiday devoted to that.

That’s kind of cool. That’s a lot cool, really. I’m still not sure about the food thing, but a holiday that celebrates forgiveness, both giving and receiving: that’s some pretty powerful shit right there. YK is a couple of months away, but perhaps this year, I’ll actually do something to honor it. Hmm. I need to think of some way to do it my style.


Image credit: http://www.ibtimes.com/yom-kippur-2013-5-facts-you-need-know-about-jewish-high-holiday-1405552