Yom Kippur was overwhelming. But then, it’s supposed to be, right?
This year, I’d gotten permission from my doctor to actually fast! Yes, I was allowed to actually, really fast for the full 25 hours. I’m a diabetic, but my diabetes is completely diet-controlled, so there wasn’t going to be the issue of “regular medication suddenly sending my blood sugar through the floor”. All I had to do was test my blood sugar any time I felt lightheaded. (And this turned out to be a good thing medically, too, because what this told me, actually, is that I’ve probably been eating too much. My blood sugar was 133 when I woke up on Wednesday morning, and when it got down to the “normal” of about 100, at around 3 pm, I felt lightheaded, but I shouldn’t have. This means that I’m used to a higher blood sugar level, and that’s not a good thing for me, so now I need to really focus on my carb count and how much I’m eating for a while. Anyway, moving on.) The only exceptions to my fast were one glass of water to take my medications for other conditions I have, and a sip of water for a painkiller in the morning for my arthritis. Apart from that? No food and no water through the entire fast.
I made a list of the people I needed to ask forgiveness from that I knew about, and I messaged each of them with an apology. I also put up this message on my social media: If I have harmed or hurt you in some way that I am not aware of within the past year, please let me know, so that I can make amends. Thank you.
The reason I worded it that way is because I am not good with the blanket “I’m sorry.” It also doesn’t meet the standards for Yom Kippur atonement: you must not just apologize, but also offer amends and reparations.
In one case, I did have to make amends, and making amends was not easy. I had blown up at someone on a friend’s Facebook thread and made the friend very uncomfortable. When I apologized to her, she said that the way I had to make amends was to also apologize to the person I’d blown up at.
Ouch. I didn’t want to do that. I’d blocked the person I’d blown up at because I was that mad about what they’d said. But I took it as a lesson in apology – sometimes you have to just bear down and admit that you were wrong. So I sent that person a message apologizing and they responded back that they just didn’t agree, and that we didn’t have to fight just because we don’t agree. I’m still not comfortable around them, but at least I did what I had to do, to make amends to my other friend.
It did help to see the trickle of responses on my post saying “No, we’re good,” though.
My husband got home from work on Tuesday at around 2 pm, with a gluten-free challah in hand for us to have at the break-fast the next night. We cleaned up a little bit, and had dinner around 5:30. I’d been drinking extra water all day (advised by many people) to make sure that dehydration wouldn’t be a problem the next day, and so had he. We planned out how we were going to get through the fast – and as it turned out, both of us did just fine. After the meal, he went and got us huge sugar-free unflavored Starbucks lattes made with heavy cream, so that we could stave off the caffeine headache (also recommended by people who had gone through the fast before).
We put together our food donation bag for the food bank, made sure we had our tickets, got dressed in our beige-and-whites, and got out the door for Kol Nidre services.
We left for shul more than an hour before the start time, because we knew the parking situation would be dreadful. And it was. We ended up parking quite far away and the walk took us 20 minutes. (And as we got close to the synagogue, we realized we’d forgotten our donation bag in the car. D’oh.) It was also a madhouse inside when we got there – people were showing up early and chatting in the foyer, a lot, which was kind of rude to the people in the sanctuary who were still at the earlier services. I finally had to duck into the library to escape the noise. We were fortunate, though – we got good seating and could see everything.
Kol Nidre is a two-hours-plus service. It’s not short, and it’s not meant to be. We were at the second service, which started around 8:30 pm. Both of us were thrilled that we could follow along in the siddur (which is the older 1984 Gates of Repentance siddur, which is lacking in transliterations). The rabbi called for people to do aliyot in groups – and the first group he called for was teachers, so I got to give an aliyah, which was neat. The music was astonishingly good – and the cantor surprised the rabbi and the entire congregation when, instead of the Yigdal for the final song, she sang a different piece. (One couple behind us apparently said “Well. That was different,” as we left – my husband overheard them – but you know what? I wouldn’t have known, because last year I didn’t get to go to Kol Nidre due to scheduling difficulties at home.)
Because I am a klutz, I managed to injure myself during services. Turning around to watch the Torah scrolls move around the sanctuary, and then into the social hall (which the back of the sanctuary can open up to connect to for events like this) was not quite possible because the space between the seats and the back of the next seat is so narrow. As a result, I managed to catch my hip on the seat, which then pulled a muscle in my back, and that was near the start of services. So most of my focus was “ow my back ow ow ow ow ow my back!” I found that putting my arm around my husband eased some of the pain, but it wasn’t until we got home and I was able to take a painkiller that it started to ease off. (Hence the preemptive painkiller the next morning; I wasn’t taking any chances about how to get through the whole day of services if my back was spasming.)
We went home around 11 pm and my husband went to bed very soon after. I stayed up for a while talking with a friend who is going through some rough times, but then I went to bed too. We were ticketed for the later services the next day, and both of us hoped to sleep through the worst of the morning hunger pangs.
Instead, we woke up at around 8 a.m. Oddly, neither of us felt any serious hunger pangs. (This turned out to be a good thing.)
I took a very quick rinse-off shower (required because of topical medication I have to take). My husband was still concerned that I might have a low-blood-sugar episode, so we put my glucose testing kit and a snack (cheese and nuts) into my tallit bag so that they were all in one place, just in case. Parking was not as bad as it could have been, but it’s still street-only parking in a residential area on the biggest temple attendance day of the year, so we assumed it would be bad. He dropped me off with the donation bag and my tallit bag about 45 minutes before services started, and went to find parking.
Yom Kippur for those of us who were at later services consists of the first service at 11, discussion forums about Yom Kippur-related topics at 1 (or so; ours ended up starting at 1:45 due to a lack of chairs in the discussion room), Yizkor at 3 pm, afternoon services at 4 pm and finally Neilah at 6 pm. Sundown was at 6:51 pm.
My husband got very emotional several times. For one thing, a group he is part of was called for the third aliyah and so he stood up when I pointed this out and gave his first-ever aliyah. He was in tears afterwards. I understood – it’s a profound thing. He also got choked up every time the choir sang the Avinu Malkeinu (which I think happened three times over the two days) and the L’dor Vador. He’s very responsive to music. He also got weepy any time “the stranger” was mentioned, as he still feels like a stranger in some ways.
He said he also learned a lot from the discussion he went to (we went to different ones – I went to one on forgiveness, and he went to one on giving people the benefit of the doubt). He often jumps to conclusions, and he said that the forum really opened his eyes about that and about how to stop doing it.
Mine was meaningful too, especially when someone said “If the person doesn’t ask you for forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them. It’s on them to recognize that what they did hurt you and come to you to ask for forgiveness.” Since I know my mother will never do that, it means that the baggage between us is on her, not on me. It was a relief to hear it.
We also talked about feeling guilt for things that you didn’t actually do, or that you aren’t actually responsible for – which for me, was a flinch moment. Have you ever had one of those? It’s when you hear something that hits you hard and you have to admit ‘Yes, that’s me,” but you flinch while you’re admitting it because the admission is difficult, or embarrassing, or uncomfortable. This was a flinch moment for me because I always take on responsibility for everything – I was trained into that by my mother – and often, as it turns out, it wasn’t my business, responsibility, or fault.
And, of course, both my husband and I had different flinch moments in the list of sins we were confessing when the time came for the Vidui and other lists of sins. I may talk about mine later, or I may not. Suffice to say, I know I’m not perfect.
I was a good little diabetic in that I tested my blood sugar when we first got to shul. That was the 133. Then, around the beginning of the forums at 2, I tested again. 103. At six, I tested one more time. 98. So I never dropped down into the “dangerously low” range (below 70) at all. I did get sleepy a couple of times, and I got lightheaded more than once, but I was never in any serious medical danger. And the only time I felt anything like thirst was AFTER the break-fast and two cups of water. Then, suddenly, I had dry throat – when I hadn’t had it at all during the fast.
Our friends from Intro, D and D, found us before the forums (they had seen us the night before but couldn’t get to us through the crowd). We sat with them at the Yizkor and then again at the Neilah service. They’re a lot of fun – he’s so serious and she’s so vivacious. It was nice to not feel like a total stranger this year – to feel like I had some of My People among Our People, if that makes sense.
My arthritis also acted up, unfortunately. Holding the siddur caused my hand to cramp up to the point where I dropped it on the floor. Fortunately, what I did turned out to be the right thing to do – I picked it up, kissed it, and put it back. My hand still aches this morning. :( I need to find a better way to hold a siddur so that my hands don’t cramp up this way for next year.
And I noticed that the atarah on my tallit was sewn on the wrong side of the tallit. The colored corners were on the opposite side of the tallit, which means that wearing it with the atarah on the outside puts the colored corners on the inside. I don’t think that’s right. Fortunately it’s sewn on with basting stitches, which should be fairly easy to rip out so we can move the atarah to the right side of the tallit.
Just like last year, I noticed when the light began to go out of the window over the Ark, and just like last year, it was incredibly powerful for me. I was not quite weeping, but I did have tears in my eyes as it was ending.
And then we had Havdallah right there in the sanctuary with the light gone from the windows. It was funny that the cantor started singing “Shavuah Tov” (have a good week) and then course-corrected, “Oh, no, no, SHANAH TOVAH!” (have a good new year). We all laughed, but it was the laughter of relief, not mockery.
The only time I had any emotional “I’m losing it” episode was after it was all over, when we went out to the break-fast area and our gluten-free challah was nowhere to be found. After a little investigation, my husband found it in the kitchen’s refrigerator, which means it wasn’t that great (gluten-free challah does not chill well). But it was still FOOD. And we met two other people who are also gluten-free Jews, so we exchanged information with them and we’ll be seeing them again soon.
Then we went to the local deli, which has just started evening hours, and had pastrami sandwiches on gluten-free bread with the biggest diet Cokes we could get our hands on, for our break-fast meal. (Oy, how Jewish are we, I ask you?) And when we got home, the food coma hit us so hard that we both went to sleep almost immediately.
So, what did I learn from this year’s Yom Kippur?
Well, I learned that it’s not about perfection. I still feel I had a meaningful fast (despite the water I had to use to take medication and painkiller). From that, I learned a lot more about the way pikuach nefesh works.
I learned that you don’t have to forgive someone who hasn’t asked for your forgiveness. My mother has my cell phone number. She could call or text if she wanted forgiveness. She hasn’t, and so I can stop worrying myself about it so much.
But I also learned that I can handle a fast. I am capable of doing that. That’s exciting. I felt like I’d done something meaningful by completing the fast.
And I learned a lot about my husband’s approach to Judaism, and I am so pleased for him.
Speaking of which, today it’s been four weeks since I went to the beit din and mikveh. I’ve been a Jew for a month today. And in one week, my husband will join me as a member of the Tribe, and we’ll move on from there.
It’s been an amazing journey. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us.