5777 - Yom Kippur Reflections
October 12, 2016
Shanah Tova. I would first like to thank the TaSTY board, Worship Committee, Rabbi Beni Wajnberg, and last but certainly not least, Hope Chernak, for giving me the utmost support during these past few weeks preparing thoroughly for the High Holy Day services. I, of course, can’t forget to appreciate all of you, the teens who came today and last week on Rosh Hashanah to take part in these experimental services.
Yom Kippur, in its simplest terms, is a day of forgiveness. When Judaism began, and the torah was certainly written for those of us who identify as reform Jews, this forgiveness meant atonement for our sins to G-d. As Reform Jewish teenagers in the 21st century, this sin to G-d thing might not be so simple to digest. In Hebrew, we use the word teshuva which means ‘return’ to define this ambiguous word of forgiveness. What are we returning to? Is there something physical that must be returned on this day? Maybe by teshuva, the torah implies that in order to ‘return’ to ourselves we must first overcome and patch up the ways in which we strayed away from ourselves since last Yom Kippur.
The ten day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at the beginning of the month of Elul, is time dedicated to two steps of forgiveness. First, we seek forgiveness from others: our family, friends, peers and colleagues. Only then will our minds be clear enough to be introspective. Then, we are to look at ourselves and look ahead to the year with new goals and plans. We are to take time to also look back, perhaps ‘return’ to the year that we finished. We are to live up to being our best selves. We are to ask: how can we do better, how can we be better? How can we influence those around us to be better? I suggest that we are returning but also growing.
Yom Kippur is a day to move away from “punishment” for making mistakes.We often hear, “let’s fall forward.” Let’s make mistakes and learn from them. As students, learners, and adolescents, we hear this all the time. In fact, our “period” to repent could be open to all year. What makes Yom Kippur different from any other day of the year, however, is that we are also having a conversation with God. We have this space, this teen service, to allow us to reflect. Take a step away from the craziness of life. Sometimes our lives get so crazy that we not only lose time to reflect and learn but time to be present with the people around us.
I know that with the sixth and seventh graders first experiencing tests and essays, eighth graders thinking about applying to high schools, freshman transitioning to high school, sophomores realizing their grades are starting to matter, juniors studying for standardized tests and seniors writing applications, it’s not the simplest request to challenge you all to sit here and listen to hebrew that you may not be interested in or even understand. So here’s a phrase that is definitely in all of your vocabularies these days: “I’m busy”.
Sure, our parents grew up playing trombone in the band, participating in varsity sports after school, and believe it or not, writing college applications just like we do. But in this generation, we have trouble sitting still and finding time to just be human and reflect. Omid Safi, the director of Islamic studies at Duke University, wrote an article in 2014 about our tendency to fill calendars and stay active, all day of every day. He wrote very specifically about the typical ‘How are you doing?’ greeting and how that plays a role in our interactions with our close friends and family. In Safi’s culture, the translation of their standard greeting is ‘How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?’ In a world where we would ask this of people whom we love and care for, we would be able to have a conversation of how we are and what we feel rather than what we are doing and how overwhelmed we are by it.
It’s easy with smartphones, laptops, and everything at our fingertips, to forget about the magnificence of talking to another human face to face, and giving advice and discussing life. Connecting on a level that is more than how many dance rehearsals you have or what physics work you haven’t done is not a simple task. But on this Yom Kippur, I challenge you all to take the time to be present with your families and friends as you break the fast. Take advantage of this evening and the rest of this afternoon to engage in deep and meaningful conversation. And hopefully in the year of 5777 we can try to ask each other how we are “being” instead of how we are doing.
I wish that this Yom Kippur, we find the time to pack away our busy schedules for both teshuva and for being present with all our loved ones, both family and friends. These could be the two steps that make for a meaningful, wonderful and joyful new Year.