Monday, September 27, 2010

Working on Yom Tov

I never did it. When I was going through my major crisis of faith a few years ago, I (ironically?) worked for a Jewish company which gave off for all the Yom Tovim.

After that, I moved across the country and was not working for just under a year.

This year, I took off for Pesach, Shavuot, and Rosh Hashanah. But when it came to Sukkot, I found that I didn't have enough vacation days and would have to either take days unpaid (something not necessarily smiled upon by the management of my company) or work.

I chose the latter. And I'll say this: it did not feel good.

I was a little bit overemotional maybe, yes, but the whole way to work on the first day, I felt like crying.

Maybe it's because Sukkot is, hands-down, my favorite holiday (of all holidays, not only Jewish ones). But it just felt so empty... and I kept thinking of my parents' sukkah in their backyard and the way all of our neighbors would be outside at the same time eating... and how I had made a series of choices that led away from that.

I started this blog in my late 20s (28, I think?). I am 31 now. In between that time, I became less and then more and then a lot less Orthodox (or Orthoprax, or whatever you want to call it).

But I'm starting to feel like I went too far again. My instinct is to gravitate back toward Orthodoxy again, but I'm not sure that's the right move. After all, there are concrete and good reasons why I left it. Comments on my last post suggested that I should try to become part of a non-Orthodox community and maybe that really is the way to go. I'm not sure why I have such resistance to it in my brain...

What I do know is that these pulls away from and toward Orthodoxy/Judaism/traditionalism seem to be a pattern in my life.

I'm not sure there's ever a point at which anyone "grows up" in the way that I understood that concept as a child. I always thought that at some point in my life, everything would just kind of congeal and I'd be that way (whatever it was) for The Rest of My Life. But if, at 31, I'm still having these major fluctuations in the way I feel and the things that seem most right for me, I'm guessing that this may just be something that doesn't really ever end.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Non-Traditional Yom Kippur: The Run Down

I wish I could say that everything turned out the way I planned it to.
But then (to wax philosophical) nothing ever really turns out the way people plan, does it?

In any case, for logistical reasons that I won't go into here, the camping part of my Yom Kippur plan didn't happen. The night of Yom Kippur, I stayed home, read a book (nothing particularly earth shattering), and yes, I ate a little bit.

But early on the morning of Yom Kippur, I got in a car, and drove about 2 hours to go hiking in a beautiful mountain/forest area.

The hike itself was incredible, especially because I hadn't been hiking in so long. The leaves were already changing colors and the sky was completely clear and my mind was able to do that contemplative, almost meditative thing that I had anticipated it would.

I kept in mind during the hike that it was Yom Kippur that day and it did alter the experience to feel more like self-growth and to keep my mind somewhat focused on the year behind me and the year ahead of me. I will say that on a personal level, it was much more meaningful than anything I've ever experienced on Yom Kippur in shul (or, more likely, lying on the couch, feeling weak, and counting the hours until I could eat again).

That said, I did find myself feeling guilty at times. Not on the hike itself, but while on the way there (i.e., while driving), in the morning while getting ready to leave, and even a little bit on the way back.

I wish this wouldn't have been the case, but it was. Somewhere in my brain, there was this little voice that kept saying, "But it's Yom Kippur!" At these times, I felt more guilty than I ever had while sneaking snacks at my parents' house on Yom Kippur. Or maybe I really just felt weird about it? I'm not sure...

I think, if I'm completely honest with myself, there's a not-so-small part of me that lives somewhere in my conscience that is still Orthodox, has an Orthodox mentality, and judges myself based on those standards that I once learned. This is the part of me that was not okay with my non-traditional Yom Kippur. It's also the part of me that every once in a while looks at my life despairingly because I haven't kept Shabbos in so long.

But if Yom Kippur is a time of self-realization, then I suppose it's useful to at least acknowledge this part of who I am. How long it will continue to exist, I'm not sure. But I do know that it's as real a part of me as the woman who decided that a non-traditional Yom Kippur was more relevant to her life and experienced that sense of peace while hiking.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Different Kind of Yom Kippur

This year, for the first time in my non-Orthodox life, I will not be spending Yom Kippur at my parents' house. Every other year, if I decided not to fast, it meant sneaking a little bit of granola here or there, sipping some water when no one was looking, but otherwise going to shul or at least sleeping and reading.

When I thought about what I wanted to do for Yom Kippur, the answer wasn't immediately obvious. I did take off for Rosh Hashana this year and had a semi-traditional celebration of it -- went to (an Orthodox!) shul, heard the shofar, ate apples/challah and honey.

But I love Rosh Hashana and somehow that kind of celebration felt appropriate, like my autumn would feel empty without it.

Yom Kippur, on the other hand, I do not love. In my head, the words "Yom Kippur" conjure up the image of sitting in a sea of white, my stomach growling, flipping through the pages and counting to see how many we had left. It also elicits the image of lying on the couch, nauseous and dizzy, crying, to weak to even stand; and (frequently) actually vomiting.

A (non Jewish) friend of mine invited me to a party - a barbecue! - on Saturday. When I realized that it was Yom Kippur, I struggled for a little bit with whether or not to accept. Why not? I kept thinking, I want to go! It sounds like fun! But something kept holding me back. A party?! A barbecue on Yom Kippur? It felt wrong. I'm still not sure why I'd have a conscience about these things, but apparently I do.

So I said no. Or rather, I said I'd come after the fast was over.

But I still didn't know what I'd do with the day. Sit around and watch videos? Read books? It all sounded so uninteresting.

And then I came up with an idea. It may seem equally as wrong as going to a party to some people. But to me it feels right. I am going to go camping and hiking.

Why these? I thought about what Yom Kippur is supposed to mean, from my understanding of it and I came up with this -- it's a holiday about becoming purified, becoming closer to God, and ultimately, self-growth.

I don't know what God is anymore, whether or not God even exists, but I do know that the closest to "spiritual" I feel is when I am out in nature, stripped of all the excess technologies that have come to signify life these days. This is intrinsically linked to how I see myself at my most pure - in the quiet of nature, away from my everyday life, thinking about what it means to live and what it means to be me.

It will also be a significant step in a direction of literal healing for me, as a few months ago, I was pretty badly injured, and this will be my first hike since then.

And yes, I will certainly be eating and drinking. But the eating and drinking will be a hiking version of eating and drinking, which is to say that it will be functional, not recreational. Somehow to me that's still an important distinction.

I will report back in a week or so on what it felt like.