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Debbie N.

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11:17 am: On Yom Kippur
Before I write about my relationship to Yom Kippur, let me point those of you who don't regularly read ellen_kushner </div>(and why don't you?) to this post, which is so extraordinarily complimentary to me that I had to think twice about linking to it. Since Ellen related it to the Jewish High Holy Days, mentioning it here feels right.


I was planning to post anyway about why, as an agnostic pretty damn close to atheism, I observe Yom Kippur. I don't do much about other Jewish holidays, though I love to host or go to a Seder if the stars line up correctly. Sometimes, I have apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, or light candles on Chanukah, but that's all optional. But for the last 10-15 years, I've been pretty serious about Yom Kippur.

For those who don't know, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, when religious Jews atone for all of their sins in the past year, and the Lord writes everyone into the Book of Life for the following year, for good or ill. It is not a celebration; observers fast for 24 hours (no water, as well as no food). For observant Jews, it is also many many hours of synagogue. At the ending sunset, people often get together to break fast.

What does "serious" mean for me? Well, I don't work, and I make it public why I'm not at work. I do a full no-food no-water fast. I turn off the computer and I generally don't answer the phone.

This is hard to reconcile with not believing in God, or in atonement. I've had at least one friend get nervous that I was turning into some kind of orthodox Jew (this would not scare me, but it did scare him). For me, it's about believing that a day of fasting and contemplation, and a break from my usual activities once a year is A Good Thing. Good for my body, my mind, and my soul. Fasting has always been comparatively easy for me; I generally do some chores, take a walk, read an important book that I've been putting off because I "don't have time," build something, catch up with someone I love. By mid-afternoon, all I want to do is sleep, so that's what I do.

If it's not religious, why do it on Yom Kippur? Because I like doing it in community. I don't know anyone else nearby who fasts, but I'm aware that there are people fasting all over the globe, and I experience that as support. I also feel that, religious beliefs aside, I need to identify both publicly and privately as Jewish, partly because, well, I am. My entire culture, my values, expectations, and nonreligious beliefs, are grounded in Judaism. My mother was a believer; my father was agnostic until the end of his life, and then largely returned to his childhood faith. Also, it's something that I can be carted away for, tortured for, killed for--that's very unlikely to happen to me personally, in the 30 years or less that I expect to live, but it is possible. And I think it matters to identify with the things about myself that other people are ready to hate me for.

So I'll be out of touch for 24 hours, starting around 7pm tonight. I think it's very convenient of the holiday to fall on a day when sunset is just about precisely at 7. I'll be engaging in (mostly) quiet, patience, and renewal.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful


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Date:September 25th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Judaism is about community (as our rabbi was explaining to us at Rosh Hashanah). So that fits with the spiritual impulse you describe here.
[User Picture]
Date:September 25th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
may you have an easy fast.
[User Picture]
Date:September 25th, 2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
L'Shana Tova!
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year, my friend.
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Best wishes for the year ahead!

I'm delighted that you included the link, especially since it led me to your speech, which is wonderfully full of things to think about. I've printed it out and it's going into my binder for heartmind exploration notes. Thanks!!!
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
In the beginning there were no colours, there was only light and dark, because God hadn't thought about colours yet. Later, God thought about life, and soon after thought about death, as a way to get old life to get out of the way of new life. And life went on and evolved into consciousness, and God was sad, because it was too late to undo death, and so conscious people had to die, and still there were no colours.

So God made a book where the names of all conscious people were written, and every year the conscious people fasted to take notice of their lives and to take notice of the fact that they were going to die, and every year God took notice of each of them and marked down the ones who were going to die that year. Then, one day, as one of the people took notice and fasted and God thought about them and wrote their name, God loved that person so much (because they were so very very wonderful) that God thought up the first colour, to write down their name. (It was red. If I'd been God, it would have been blue, but in fact everyone agrees it was red.) After that red spread out through the world, getting on sunsets and strawberries and autumn leaves.

As time went on, there were more especially marvellous people for whom God made colours and let the colours out to run through the world, blue getting into the sky and yellow getting into the sun and on and on. Some say there were three, and others say seven people, and others say two hundred and fifty six, but we pity those poor misguided schismatics and I say there were an infinite number of people and an infinite number of subtle colours, and God isn't done with this project yet.

So on the first day of the year look carefully, look widely, look at the world with care so that you'll notice if there's a new colour. You won't know if it's your colour. (Nobody knows that, and we will have nothing to do with the heresies that try to connect specific people with specific colours.) But when we like people, when we see people who are amazing and wonderful, we say "God will make a special colour to write down your name!"

And we'll be talking about you specifically when we say that.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Minor quibble: On Rosh Hashannah it is written, but on Yom Kippur the book of life is sealed[1].

I hope you had a meaningful fast.

[1] and on Hoshanah Rabbah the book of life is "delivered" (to quote wikipedia entry on "Hoshan Rabbah", checked today)... so it's still not too late :-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2012 04:29 am (UTC)
I hope you had a very good day. Thanks for linking to Ellen's post, it was good to read the speech and remember how much I enjoyed hearing you make it. Hugs.
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Date:September 29th, 2012 05:43 am (UTC)
Judaism is a practice, not a faith. Since the name of Maimonides has already been dropped (somewhere), I take the liberty of pointing out that even his attempt to short-list a catechism for Judaism was a flat out failure.
The commandments are verbs, not, for the most part attitudes.
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