October 2016 marks the Jewish New Year, and we welcome the year 5777
This Yom Kippur, I'm sharing my experience reflecting on how I lived 5776
Sometimes, you don't realize you need something until it presents itself to you. In this case, Yom Kippur was the pause button I had no idea I was craving.
Before I proceed, let me share some background on the high holy days, the most sacred days of the year for Jews. It starts with Rosh Hashanah, the new year celebration according to the ancient Jewish calendar, followed by 10 days of reflection leading up to Yom Kippur. YK is sacred because it's the day when God writes your name in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death for the next year. Jews spend these 10 days in deep reflection on all the good and bad they did in the past year and ask forgiveness for their mistakes and sins. We spend the day fasting, going to special services, and praying.
I wasn't at a point in my life where I felt I needed to be particularly introspective- I was content with my relationships, happy at work, and settling back into my routine after a long vacation. That's the great thing about organized religion- it's so easy to get wrapped up in the minutia of living that you forget to expand your scope of vision to the bigger picture. And that's what I challenged myself to do this YK.
I thought about the past year. As usual, it was filled with ups and downs, moments where I was really proud of myself and moments where I felt low. When digging into these low points where I didn't do the right thing, didn't help someone in need, or was just downright nasty, I reflected on the phrase we typically say when we're apologizing; "this isn't the person I am." Everything you do or say makes up who you are, even if it's out of character. If you're a good person who does something bad, or vice versa, that act is now a part of who you are. It doesn't necessarily make you into a bad person, because being a human just isn't that black-and-white. It's a tough pill to swallow, but your bad moments colored what kind of You you were last year. The best way you can grow is to say, "that's who I was this year. I acted in this way, and I have to accept that that's made me into a certain type of person. But that is not who I want to continue to be. In the coming year, I want to focus on acting in a manner that's aligned with my beliefs and values." It is my belief that by acknowledging your actions have made you into the person you are, not justifying them as one-off sins, you can begin the process of asking yourself, God, and your loved ones for forgiveness. This realization was very important to me.
Yom Kippur also allowed me to hit pause on my busy life, and by pausing, you have the opportunity to hit 'reset.' My core values are extremely important to me (naturally) and I took the chance to revisit them. Equality, equity, fairness, independence, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, giving, education- these are the tenets by which I want to structure my decisions and voice. I'm sure you could ask most people and they would agree with these values, but does everything you say and do reflect these beliefs? Chances are, no. I'm not striving for perfection here, but choosing to live with intention and making choices that reflect what matters to you is ultimately going to make you happier with yourself and may just make the world a little better for others.
It was also a time for me to be grateful and remind myself of all the good I have in my life. I have wonderful parents, a sister, grandparents, and extended family that I love and support, and make time for them regularly. I have a wonderful boyfriend that I love deeply and care for in my ways. I value my relationships with friends and acquaintances and am always open to making new friends and building human connections. I'm a wonderful momma to my cat Stella. I'm a hard worker and frequently go above and beyond the call of duty at work. I rarely ever passively complain- I take action, and entourage others to act as well. I'm genuinely very open and respect everyone's decisions, so long as they're not hurting others. I'm never too busy to give advice. I challenge myself to grow, dig into why certain things make me uncomfortable, and push myself to understand points of view contrary to my own. I'm so blessed in so many ways.
Additionally, it was unexpectedly nice to participate in YK services. Rarely do I attend temple or observe shabbat, and even less so without my family around to worship with me. But while live-streaming the services (LOL) I heard the familiar sounds of the shofar, sang the Hebrew songs and prayers that came back to me as naturally as a lullaby, and listened to the congregation's personal journeys, I appreciated just how important the traditions and memories associated with Judaism are to me. Perhaps it reminds me of being with family, or is a connection to a part of my ancestry that I wish I knew more about, or maybe it's something I cherish because it's a rich culture that needs to be cherished.
Going into this Yom Kippur, I was pretty upset with myself. I had over-scheduled myself at work and in the evening so I couldn't get to temple, and felt like I had let myself down. YK isn't just the holiest day of the year- it means a lot to me personally to take the day at the very least for mental and spiritual health. Life doesn't always go your way. You have to do what's best with what you have in front of you. At sundown, when I'd broken the fast with wine and charcuterie, I felt very content and at peace. Was I who I wanted to be this year? No. But I'm feeling assured in what I want and empowered to act in alignment with who I'm developing myself to be. Cheers to 5777, everyone!