Becoming Jewish. Day 1.
Today is Yom Kippur, a day I didn’t even know the meaning of last year. If you had asked me what the day meant, I probably would have told you, “It’s a Muslim holiday, I think.”
This year, I am observing this most holy of holidays in the Jewish calendar as I find myself beginning the process of becoming Jewish, or at the very least, someone who practices Jewish traditions.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement in which I’ve learned from Wikipedia that even secular Jews return to their practice. They go to temple in droves, like Christians who don’t attend church do on Christmas and Easter.
Last night I paid $43, the young adult fee, to attend a packed Seattle synagogue full of dressed up families coming together to observe the holiday together. I felted instantly welcomed and at home, although a little nostalgic of the absence of my own family. I thought of the many times my own family had gotten together for an Easter service at our conservative Minnesotan Lutheran Church. We’d put on our nicest clothes, smiling and greeting church friends we hadn’t seen since the last Easter service. I would be giggling at the mis-behavings of my slightly younger brother. He would probably be drawing on the service insert something ridiculous that only he and I would laugh at at an inappropriate moment during the sermon. My Mom would elbow us in gentle reprimand while smiling contentedly that her children were together at her side, making her proud. My Dad would look over with a “trying-to-be-stern” look that also indicated that he was pleased we were all together enjoying each other’s company.
I kinda miss those days, although I don’t feel very Lutheran any more. Or very Minnesotan for that matter. Two and a half years ago, I moved to Seattle with my then fiance, now husband of a year and half. We had both been trying for years to get out of Minnesota for good. We didn’t want to get stuck with a life we hadn’t chosen. It was too easy to get “trapped” there. It felt like that was all too easy to do on the cold wintery plains of the Mid-West. You find a nice guy or gal, get a decent job, have some kids and suddenly your life was no longer yours and you found yourself cursing the fact that you’d be shoveling that snowy, cracked sidewalk under another winter dubbed “Snowmagadden 20-whatever”. How had this happened? We had been quite adamant about not letting this fate happen to us.
Today, in Seattle I find myself becoming a new person. Escaping a different trap that I’d suddenly started feeling. I cheated on my husband 3 months ago while I was working in San Francisco, and it has forced me out of the decent and safe life I’d begun building with my husband in Seattle. A year and a half after I had become a wife, I fell in love with someone who probably wasn’t going to love me back. A month ago, I told my husband the truth about it. I hadn’t slept with him, but I had fallen for him, whatever that meant, and we’d messed around.
There are many stories to tell here, and I will unravel them each day to come as I face the New Year as this suddenly transformed person. But for today I decide to take the first step by writing out the beginning of this story as I find myself. I put on my all-white tunic hoping that the white symbolizes the forgiveness I asked for last night at temple. Hoping that in the white I can begin to see myself as clean and forgiven, washed clean of the things that can’t be erased.
The white tunic is the only white I have. I purchased it to wear to my mother-in-law’s zen community in Southern California this summer when I visited her to “zen-out” as I called it, since I didn’t really know what went on there. She grew up Jewish, but never really practiced. When I married her son, she gave me a small pouch of her “treasures” from her previous life full of material things before she’d owned before becoming a Buddhist. I’m wearing her small Star of David medallion with light blue etching that says “Zion” in Hebrew in the middle. I don’t know where she got it, but she kept it all these years despite not recognizing herself as Jewish. I feel taboo wearing it, but convince myself that it’s alright since she’s not really Jewish either, and plus it’s alright since it was a gift from my spiritual teacher- even if I had cheated on her son.
I think of my mother-in-law as a “Jew-Bu”. Despite being an embodiment of modern zen practice, she doesn’t realize that deep down she cannot shake her Jewish New Yorker roots, and she is the epitome of all Jewish Mother-in-Law jokes, but the intensity of it is only masked by a laid-back California vibe she has picked up over the years. I both love and loathe these contradictory elements she brings to my life, but mostly I love them because she means them in good spirit.
Now, I am going to go meditate and light the incense I got at the San Francisco Zen Center and meditate while wearing my Jew-Bu mother-in-law’s star of David necklace, in my white Buddhist monastery shirt and yoga pants. I’m going to try hard to forgive myself in the spirit of Yom Kippur for my heart opening to someone who isn’t mine, when I was under a vow to God with my husband not to open my heart to another man.
But first I need to delete the texts from a beautiful man named David that I fell quickly and ridiculously in love with. Last night he forgave me again because I told him before the Kol Nidre service that I still fantisize about putting his dick in my mouth. He and I were trying not to talk anymore, and me texting him this was a terrible attempt at trying to force some sort of connection between us. He texted me back “No more.” And instantly I hated myself for being so ridiculous and behaving in such an unrespectable manner. After Yom Kippur service, I called him and left a voicemail saying that once again I was sorry for my ridiculous behavior. I didn’t say why I had done what I’d done. He seemed to understand without me needing to explain myself, and every “why” I had in my head felt like a flimsy excuse. A few hours later he texted me back a message which I take to be as close as humans get to forgiveness in the modern era: “No worries.” And then, “May your fast be easy.” This text was a beautiful token that I want to wear around my neck like my Buddhist mother-in-law’s Star of David necklace. A gift of acceptance. I have to delete his texts, but I want to keep this sentiment close to my heart. He probably just said it because it’s what you say on Yom Kippur, but to me it means that he accepts and respects the steps I’m taking to atone for my sins- the things are bodies did together, and that he already sees me as Jewish, like him.
So, I guess after fasting and wearing white today, I am officially forgiven and free… and maybe even officially Jewish? I will start this New Year today by doing as I should: reflecting, praying, and making plans for a better year ahead than the one I just made a mess of. I don’t know how one judges being successfully forgiven, but I will take David’s words to mean that I am forgiven and accepted- messiness and all. Tomorrow, I will break my fast with a homemade apple kugel. I will eat it slowly wishing for a sweet new year for myself, as kugel is meant to symbolize. But can I truly be forgiven when I still wish to share my New Year’s kugel with David when I’m eating it in the home that doesn’t feel like my home, that is shared with my husband, when I don’t feel like a wife?
I don’t know, but I do promise to tell myself and others the truth, even if it’s ugly and raw and be kind to myself even as I’m growing. Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism can all agree on this, I think, “To love one another as you love yourself.” I think the first step here, no matter what, is figuring out how to love yourself in a suitable manner so you don’t treat other people like crap.