My favorite Jewish holidays
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur probably don’t appear on many Jews’ “Favorite Holiday” lists, yet they’re at the top of mine.
They are observed almost exclusively in the synagogue, there aren’t any festive decorations and they are an entirely religious event. No historic triumph is associated with them.
Yet, because I associate them with a significant event in my personal religious history, they’re my favorite.
I grew up in Los Angeles, a member of a conservative synagogue, went to religious school three days a week until my bar mitzvah and regularly attended worship services there through high school.
Then, I went away to college in a town in Iowa that if it had a synagogue I never found it. Four years later I returned to southern California a non-observant Jew.
I wasn’t rebelling against anything. I still identified as a Jew but I was too busy creating my adult life to be bothered with religion.
At age 26 with the High Holidays approaching, for reasons unknown, instead of treating it like any other day as had been my practice, I decided on Rosh Hashanah to take the day off and be Jewish. I didn’t go to a synagogue, though.
Instead, I packed the English version of the Torah I received on my bar mitzvah into a briefcase, along with a High Holiday prayer book and some other Jewish texts and went to a meditation garden on Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
My plan was to be there a couple of hours reading and trying to figure things out, but I ended up staying the entire day then went back 10 days later on Yom Kippur.
I returned to being an observant Jew.
The process of repentance during the “10 Days of Awe” starts on Rosh Hashanah when we examine our lives to figure out where we went wrong over the past year.
During the ensuing days leading up to Yom Kippur we are supposed to seek out and apologize to people we’ve wronged in the past year.
We have to do that because on Yom Kippur, when we seek divine forgiveness, we won’t receive it if we haven’t first sought human forgiveness.
While I always fail miserably in navigating this process, I take it seriously and try to succeed at it every year.
A rabbi once told me all it takes to be a good Jew is to live a good life. Without the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur process of self reflection and repentance, I have no chance of ever reaching that goal.
This year Rosh Hashanah starts at sunset tonight. I’ll be at services at Temple Beth Or tonight and tomorrow and again on Yom Kippur next week on Friday, Sept. 13 and the next day, until one long blast from the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown at sunset, ending the holiday and reminding me to act on the promises I made over the past 10 days.