I take Yom Kippur seriously, for only one reason, it is important to me.
Over the years I've developed my own ritual based on the basics. I fast. I bang my chest. I go to Kol Nidre. I think. I dream. I go back to shul. I bang my chest. I think. I read about Jonah. I read about the sacrifices. I bang my chest. I sing Avinu Malkenu. I sit in the woman's section. I come home. I sleep. I dream. I really dream. I dream like a champ. I dream as if I've been smoking opium. Deep, profound and distrubing dreams. I think. I go back for the end. I stand. I think. The year past, the year forward. Did I really sin and whom against? Is there anything that I am truly sorry for? What vows have I made that I did not fulfill? And then the searing shofar blast tanimal, primitive. It enters through the scapula, through the base of the spinal chord and reverses course and comes out of the heart.
Done. Time to eat. Walk home. Let's not talk about the past, shall we?
This year I fell out of my comfort zone. I had to go to Georgia, across the sea to launch my book. I had, not a request, but a demand; to stay within walking distance from the Great Synogogue and have utter peace during my fast. As long as that could happen, I felt pulled to Georgia, and its deep emotional mythology.
No path. Lots of dust. Workers banging bricks by hand, sweeping with brushes made from weeds. It reminded me of Gaza in 1977, only Christian style.
PETA would not be happy.
The next night I had my last meal, and then headed to the shul with my machzor.
The shul was built at the beginning of the 20th century and I walked up the stairs, though the back of the men's section. To outside where there was yet another staircase. I arrived to the women's section and sat on a straightback, Quaker worthy bench. I pulled out my machzor, and had not a clue what was going on. I can follow the Hebrew, but I had never been in a Sephardic shul before and nothing was recognizable. The chanting like whatevers? Selling aliyahs and probably wives. Women blew kisses to the torahs as if their sweethearts were going off to war.
The men wore jeans.
Heartbreak: Yom Kippur starts with the Kol Nidre a tune as powerful and primal as the shofar that ends the fast. One with voice, the other with the ram's horm. I couldn't hear it. They were going in another direction. But I still had to find the key to the gates. This year, above all others I needed them. I was stuck, in Georgia with beating my fists against the locked doors, way above the men's section.
I tried to remember my grandfather (who looked ancient from the time I knew him, held in his arms as a redheaded infant, til the time he died, until he died, at near to 104). I tried to remember how he, in a very authentic yet not trained voice sang, nothing held or strained for, just plaintively pleaded Kol Nidre.
A pigeon! One flew through the doors. Lost and noisy. Women were distracted. The pigeon bat around, the wings terribly strident, fussy and frustrated. The angry winged rodent could not find the many open windows. It wanted to go through the one window that won't open. Human or pigeon nature. We're all the same. I find the pigeon within.
First lesson of the new year, go to doors that are open for you. It is Yom Kippur. There are doors everywere. The ones that open at the beginning. The doors that close at the end. Find the right ones.
My father died on Yom Kippur in 2004. Was he the first one out or the last one. We are not sure. But the pigeon finally took flight away before darkness truly fell.
This was the year I sought meaning in prayer and as it was my first meaningful attempt I found out I just wasn't cut out for it. Is it prayer or begging? I'm not sure. It's a notion that doesn't sit well with me. I have a yearning for ritual. I still have no idea about prayer, yet this year I needed it. And then what. Then I'm a pigeon flying into a window.
The next day, I search for U'netaneh tokef. Nothing. I couldn't find it in their tradition, so I had to go it alone.
On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.Who will survice cancer and who will be felled.
It was Chinuri time.
Iago makes scintilating chinuri, but his wife can win a katchapuri contest any day.