Growing up, I observed Yom Kippur by the book. My mother’s grandfather was a rabbi, so mom gave me the “This is how I do; you are free to do what you want” talk every time I questioned certain practices about Pesach or Yom Kippur—like how come my Jewish friends said eating rice and ice-cream on Passover was OK. Her statement shut me up each time. Of course I was going to take my mom’s side. There was no question.
On Yom Kippur, my sister and I didn’t go to school, and my mother refused to lie and send a note that said we were sick, which would have been easier. She may have written something like “for religious reasons,” but I also remember her writing some notes that refused to give a reason for why we did not go to school on other occasions. During our fast, we basically napped a lot and read books (until it was almost time for the Shofar, which is when we walked to the Synagogue to hear the shofar and meet my dad). Writing was work, so no homework was allowed; no letters, no shopping lists, not a scratch. We didn’t have computers back then, so avoiding technology meant no tv, no music, and no answering the phone. This last part was annoying because we also didn’t have an answering machine (and no one had voice mail). So if someone called (and someone might have since the rest of the country was 98-99% Muslim), we had to let the phone ring and ring and ring.
As an adult, as an “American” (I’m still working on embracing my new citizenship) with no immediate family members in the US, I realized I could choose how to celebrate Jewish holidays. At first, I realized there was no way I could replicate the traditions I grew up with in Turkey without my family here. Then, I started reading about different holiday practices, and decided to interpret them in a way that made sense to me and my life here in the US. I created new traditions for myself (ask me in person about my self-created Rosh Hashanah tradition and the 10 Days of Awe practice, of which I am quite proud), involved my friends and chosen-family in some of these new practices, and slowly built a community and an authentic way of being Jewish in San Francisco. I’m still building.
This is not to say that I don’t struggle with loneliness and homesickness around the holidays anymore. At the same time, I think coming up with my own practices and traditions has made me more mindful and allowed me to feel more connected to Judaism as well as my family despite the distance.
On Yom Kippur, now that I do have a computer and wireless internet and social media pages and multiple email accounts to check, I struggle with separating myself from “work.” This year, I decided I would use technology, but do so more intentionally, and I would not answer any work emails (I set an “Out of the Office” alert). In fact, I haven’t responded to any emails, work or otherwise. I did check Facebook and Twitter and posted a few things because to me, a part of atoning is making efforts to connect, build empathy, strive to do better in the world.
I used technology today to listen to various versions of my favorite prayer, Avinu Malkeinu, online (did you know Mogwai and Phish covered this prayer/song??). This prayer resonated all the more powerfully in me today. I thought of the systemic injustices in this country that has taken so many lives and broken so many hearts; I thought of Syrian refugees…And I shed tears while I listened to and sang this prayer.
So here’s a post I found on Facebook just a few minutes ago. I am posting it here because it challenges me to be forgiving, to focus on calling people in, not calling people out. That’s my goal for this new year. It’s really been my goal since last year’s White Privilege Conference, but I am resolving to keep this intention in the forefront rather than in the back of my mind this year.