Outside Looking Inside Out

The high holidays just passed for us Jews. They’re meant as a time for self-reflection, atonement, and self-improvement. You’re asked to make resolutions, but unlike most “American” New Year’s resolutions, you’re supposed to resolve to be a better person – more giving, more thoughtful, more friendly, more loving, more aware of the world.

Anyway, I appreciate all that and it’s just background for the story here: I went to Yom Kippur services by myself.

I had never, ever, gone to a high holiday service by myself.¬† I had never gone to any religious service by myself before becoming Jewish (and then getting divorced). I went to this synagogue alone a few times in the early days of trying to figure my life out after the divorce. It was nice, the rabbi is a woman, which I like (although she looks disturbingly like my ex-mother-in-law), and I did take a Hebrew class there one fall, but there wasn’t anyone my age attending services and I didn’t connect with anyone and I just had no real desire to keep going alone. So now I attend the holiday services with my Chicken’s parents.

Except this time, because I forgot that on Yom Kippur they attend only the afternoon services, which I didn’t used to do with my in-laws. So I showed up in the morning, assuming I’d find them in the crowd. I didn’t, so I sat down and followed along in the book.

I feel a lot more comfortable with what’s going on, because I can still sort of follow along with the Hebrew and I have learned some of the prayers. But I missed the formative childhood Hebrew education, where you learn, for example, all the sing-songy traditional songs in Hebrew that people happily sing when the Torah is walked around the sanctuary.

Anyway, being by myself in such a big congregation on Saturday was a bit unnerving. It was comforting that at one point another woman by herself came and sat next to me. And several other people around me were attending alone. But I felt kind of vulnerable, and it made me emotional, and I got choked up during the prayer where the whole congregation apologizes for sinning. Then I dropped a tear or two during the prayer for the sick, thinking about Sherpa’s dad. I tend to get a little weepy in churches and synagogues (haven’t tried any others) for some reason anymore, and it was magnified that day. But I was glad I was there, still.

Then I saw a few rows ahead of me a family that was obviously welcoming their son’s non-Jewish girlfriend to services, maybe for the first time. There was much fawning over her by the whole family, giggling, explaining, hugging and googly-eyes from the boyfriend. It sort of looked like what I imagine I looked like seven years ago when I attended my first Yom Kippur services. Except that this congregation is very openly welcoming to interfaith families (the rabbi even mentioned it during her sermon), whereas that synagogue I first went to was not. But this was much like watching myself as a nervous 23-year-old non-Jewish girl, trying to soak up as much as I could and please everyone. Very strange.

So here’s where seven years brought me after that, I thought. Still learning, but doing it independently. I wasn’t quite sure how to process the information, but that family looked so happy and I was happy for them. And I’m still happy with my “Jewish” decision.

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