Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reflecting on Yom Kippur - Part 3: The final chapter

Part 3 - *This is the final installment of a 3 part series.*

Now that Yom Kippur has come and gone, I have decided to change things up a bit and share with you my personal Atonement Day experience rather than posting for you my typical universal explanations of what the Holy Day is all about. I have been asked in the past to give "day-in-the-life" posts about Shabbos, so, with that request in mind, I am going to begin with Friday night bringing in Shabbos and end Monday night at the break-fast. Hopefully, you will find being a fly on MZ's wall for this year's Yom Kippur journey to be enlightening and entertaining, but, if not, than I apologize in advance for being a bore.

Sunday, 12:16pm

We are finishing up a 1st birthday party for our friends twins and saying our goodbyes. Everyone wishes each other an easy fast and G'mar Tovah, the wish that we be favorably inscribed and sealed in God's book of judgement on Yom Kippur. Of course, Mrs. Z will not be fasting this year since she is pregnant and can't afford a trip to the hospital for dehydration. Jewish law is clear about this: She'll eat the minimum and drink the minimum to remain out of harm's way.

We are now headed to a beautiful resort hotel that Mrs. Z's parents (Bubbe and Zaide Z) are putting the whole family up in together for Yom Kippur. Mrs. Z's parents shul is quite small and can't hold the mass quantities of people who show up for Yom Kippur services, so the Rabbi books a hotel and its facilities for the entire Holy day event. We'll have our pre-fast meal and break-fast meal, plus all the davening, right there on the hotel grounds. Very nice and convenient for all, plus Mrs. Z is always happiest when she gets to do the holidays with her family.


We arrive at the hotel and check in. I am anxious to get up to the room, have a snack and watch the football games, while Mrs. Z prepares to go down to the pool with her parents and Baby Z. Mrs. Z's family doesn't follow sports, especially football, so they are amused and confused by my passion for the game. Actually, Bubbe Z does follow baseball a bit, and Mrs. Z is a very good sports wife, but Zaide....well, he tries, and he's polite about it, but lets just say it is not his cup of tea.

Oh, no! I get to the room and they are not showing the Bills-Vikings game (I am a Buffalo native and still love the Bills despite having moved away in 1989) as scheduled! It was supposed to be televised but they switched it out for an infomercial and will show their double header game at 4:00 instead. Bah! Oh, well, I will watch the Dolphins Texans instead.

BTW, Baby Z might only be 20 months old, but she is a champion swimmer already. It is sooo cute watching her swim and jump in the pool without any floaties!


The Dolphins lost on a trick play called by Mike Mularkey. Hah! He is their offensive coordinator who got run out of Buffalo last year as head coach. He was always calling those horrible, bone-headed trick plays that never worked in Buffalo, and it's hilarious to see it play out that way again with the Fish. YOU SUCK MULARKEY!

Mrs. Z is in the room now with Baby Z as we are trying to be dressed and ready to go to dinner at 4:30. We are running late, but that's ok as this is a Chabad program and let's just say they are notoriously tardy themselves. Anyway, by 4:45 we are out the door and off to dinner.


What a great spread they put out! Broiled lamb chops in rosemary sauce, a mushroom stuffed chicken breast in a piccata, two soups, roasted potatos, salads, green bean almandine.... yummmm ... and since this is the last we will eat or drink for the next 25 hours I make sure to stuff as much in as I can possibly fit down my gullet.


We assemble in the large hall now for mincha prayers and then the beginning of Yom Kippur - the Kol Nidre service. We put on our Tallis for Yom Kippur. This is the only time of the year the tallis is worn at anytime besides morning prayers. Yom Kippur has a very special feeling. We have a baby sitter watching Baby Z in the room so that we will be able to pray meaningfully tonight.

The Kol Nidre, and all of Yom Kippur prayers for that matter, have a very haunting and holy tone. You really feel in your bones that this is more than any other day of davening. We are, of course, going to be deeply focused on asking God for forgiveness for our transgressions and missed opportunities to be holy and good, collectively and individually, over and over again, until Yom Kippur ends at 8:52pm Monday night.


We are back at the room and Baby Z is not asleep. This will prove out to be a long night for us as she has trouble when routine is broken at this age. Uggghh...we don't get to sleep until 1am and I am already very thirsty! Poor Baby Z cries and cries....


No! Baby Z is awake and demanding our attention! Oy vay, this little girl is going to test us the whole time at the hotel, I guess. Mrs. Z shows mercy on my fasting and tired soul and takes Baby Z down to the children's breakfast. I get sleep until they return at 8:30. Thanks, Mrs. Z!


Time to head down for shachrit (morning services). I am feeling pretty good , actually, considering that I am a coffee addict and am without my morning caffeine fix. Zaide Z walks with me down to the service, and BIT Z (brother-in-law Z) meets us down there shortly after.

This will be a long day of prayer: the longest of the year. Except for a break from 3:00 to 5:00 we will be davening all the way through until Yom Kippur ends. There are Torah readings in the morning and afternoon, plus the very long Musaf Amidas. The Amida is a direct pipeline of speaking to God, and we do it three times a day every day. Amida literally means to stand, so we are standing before God when we read our prayers. The Amidas represent the 3 times of day sacrifices were made at the Temple to God's earthly presence at the Holy of Holies. Yes, at THAT Temple Mount - the one the moslems now are in charge of, with the wall around it which Jews pray at called the Kotel, at least when they're not being beaten and arrested by Israeli police for blowing the Shofar - in case you were wondering.

Anyway, the Musaf is an added Amida service for Yom Tovim and Shabbat. We first read it together in near silence, while standing of course, and then all sing along with the chazzan who does the repetition. The Musafs for Yom Kippur are exceptionally long, as you might imagine, and are heavily concentrated on our need to repent for all we've done wrong.


At Chabad they have an auction for the aliyos to be given on Yom Kippur. It is these donations that essentially support the shul for the entire year, so the bids can get high and wild. Zaide Z wants me to get the aliya for opening the curtain for Shachris Musaf, a very big honor as you recall from my previous post, and the aliya that offers special blessings to the 9 month pregnant expectant mother.


Zaide Z bids and wins the auction for the Aliya! It is a wonderful thing to do, and I thank him profusely for being so generous.


I get called up to the arc for my Aliya, and open up the curtain. I remove one Torah (two are used for Yom Kippur) and am given the added honor of carrying the Torah around the room for all to touch and kiss. Very, very nice. I am elated. As I walk around to the women's side Mrs. Z is crying - half because she is so happy and moved by the aliya, and half because Baby Z has been such a nightmare child at shul that she was feeling overwhelmed. I told her I'd give her a break and after the Aliya we go out to the hallway and I watch her for awhile. Mrs. Z is very moved by the whole experience of being close to delivering again, plus all the nachus we have received from being parents with Baby Z, plus Yom Kippur's soul searching process, plus the hormones going nuts, plus the lack of sleep the night before, so she very much needs some comforting and attention. MZ is on duty.


Ugghh. Need a break. Getting weak, and tired, and irritable. Fasting all day plus the praying without stop is designed to really test our hearts and our patience. It is not an easy test. The services are running over because the auction went so long, and we are all ready to lay down at this point. It looks like still another half hour before we're done for our intermission, if you will.

I love the Bircot Kohanim duchening. This is when the Levites wash the hands of the Kohanim, who then go upm to the bima by the arc and give an ancient chant of blessings for us. They have their tallits over their heads and arms extended while they do this, and let me tell you, the first time I saw it it just blew me away. Very powerful imagery and sounds. We, the congregants, face them with our tallits over our heads wrapped and around our children whom we hold close to us for the blessing. Since that comes near the end of the Musaf service, we decide to leave when it is finished.


Got almost no sleep. Baby Z is just so overtired and cranky that everything makes her cry. She won't sleep or nap no matter what. Hotels under these religious circumstances are very tough for her right now, so both the wife and I are thinking that next year this may not fly when we have two to deal with. Very frustrating.

Anyway, time for mincha services and then bringing it all home with the Neilah Amidah finale. We see the light at the end of the Yom Kippur tunnel, but still have the hardest couple hours to go. Anyway, now it is time for Mincha, so off we go.


The Rabbi gives a sermon, one of many throughout the day. This one is his best I feel because he touches on the fact that as Jews we should never feel like hypocrites or foreigners when we walk into a shul to pray. Even if we are totally secular, don't ever go to shul except one time a year, as Jews are natural place is among other Jews at shuil praying to God. Everything else we do is a forced act, or a behavior that must be forced, but for a Jew do be among other Jews at a service is the natural state of our being no matter what.

This is what I like about Chabad. They are so sincere about outreach, so real about wanting to bring in lost Jewish souls to a meaningful life of Torah and mitzvos, that you can't help but be impressed.

Many people think all religious Jews are the same, but as you can see by the many diverse Orthodox environments I participate in, religious Judaism is indeed is a very full and vibrant world. The stereotype of all observant Jews being clones or sheep is just so misguided... I wish others could see and experience this for themselves so that they would realize how well women are treated and how warm the people are.


Neilah just getting started...oh, no, we are behind! I can't wait to eat and drink some scotch! OK, calm down, this is not the time to get testy...the final al chaits prayers are coming and I have to be focused on why I'm here. Focus...focus...focus...

OK, we are winding up now! The chant for Lishana Haba'a b'Yerushalyem (next year in Jerusalem) has begun! We did it! Yes! Everyone is happy, we made it through all the praying and repenting and challenges that God gives us all for 25 tough hours, but here we are! Now it is time to eat, drink and celebrate that we have, God willing, we have been been sealed in the book of life and now can look forward with a clean and pure slate. Only on Yom Kippur's conclusion do you get that feeling that you are cleansed and pure, because every time we open our mouths or go to do something in our mundane lives we are inviting the next sinful act. But, now, at this brief shining moment, we all feel clean and good.

Time to eat!!

L'Shana Tova!


PS. Succos starts Friday night!!! Gotta get ready...


Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting. Respectful debate and dissent are welcomed. MZ reserves the right to censor for any reason without explanation.