Monday, September 20, 2010
The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur was on Saturday. I had decided to fast for the first time in my life, and was pretty freaked. I had been advised, as a way to prep for the fast, to eat a big meal before the fast starts. Sadly, I didn't prep for that as much as I could have. I ate, but I wasn't totally full, and I ate too early. In the long run, I don't know that it made too much of a difference, but I still felt I should have prepared better.
Saturday was difficult, but not nearly as hard as I imagined it would be. Throughout the day, hunger would hit me in waves. I was thinking a fast would be a day of constant hunger in which you tried to distract yourself with prayer but I happily discovered it was quite the opposite- It was a day of prayer interrupted, every now and again, by annoying hunger pains. Most of the day was almost pleasurable. There was a lot of intense praying, which felt wonderful. There are few things in this world quite like sitting in a Synagogue and just praying.
The services themselves were intense. We remembered all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. It was a day of atonement as well as a day of remembering the suffering of those who came before us. It was then that it really hit me, as it hadn't before. As I was sitting there, hungry, as millions of human beings were in the concentration camps, I better understood their suffering. Let me get something straight right now; I am in NO WAY equating a day of fast and atonement to the suffering felt in the concentration camps, it was just at that moment, I understood. I have been blessed in my life to have never known true hunger. There, I felt hunger. I understood.
It got really difficult at about 5 pm. This was it- the home stretch. I tried to distract myself with prayer, but I had prayed so much that morning that it was difficult. Eventually I just succumbed. At about 6pm I stopped actively praying and thought longingly about the fast being over. I wasn't even so much hungry as I was weak and I wanted it to be over. I had taken myself out of the day.
I came back when it was the choir's turn to sing. We were 45 minutes from the end of the fast and I, along with my choir members, went back onto the Bimah and squished together and we sang. It was so beautiful. The music moved me in a way I hadn't felt in a long time. It felt amazing to be singing with the choir again, something that (before this High Holiday Season) I hadn't experienced in a long time. In that synagogue, surrounded by Judaism and Hebrew and beautiful music, I just kept thinking “I am home.”
While on the Bimah, I was starting to get shaky and focused on not passing out. I didn't think I would, but I didn't want to get to that point. We finished singing, we sat down. The fast was ending, it was time for the Havdallah service. They turned off the lights in the sanctuary and lit the candle. It was so moving. I sat in a room full of people, weak after fasting, watching the candlelight. I felt unbelievably blessed to have been a part of this. I felt blessed that I was in good enough heath that I could fast, blessed that I was there, at that synagogue, actively participating. I was drained and emotionally exhausted and running on adrenaline at the same time. It was one of the most intense moments of my life, that whole day was. Havdallah ended and the Shofar was blown one last time, signaling the end of Yom Kippur. I had done it. I had made it. I wish I could better describe that feeling. I wish I could better describe that day, but I can't. And maybe I’m not supposed to.