A Contemplative Holy Day

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I don’t talk much here about religion, partially because I don’t feel that this is the place for it and partially because my religious life is evolving and I don’t feel like I have anything authority to say even my own beliefs. One thing that I do love about my evolving Judaism is the role of holidays and ritual that take place in our life.

Growing up being Jewish mainly meant family, it meant getting together and eating. Mostly it defined who I was not. While we never were members of a congregation I did go with my Aunt to Temple for Yom Kippur every year. It was a long boring experience but I felt that there was something about doing it that was important, even if I didn’t understand what was going on. Between my high school annual visits to temple and now I have had many different relationships with my Jewishness. In fact for most of the first ten years I was adamantly a agnostic, feeling more connected to nature. The past ten years have been different, there is a certain amount of identity searching I did before deciding to have a child. Which brings us to now.

Over the past few years I have tried to weave together religious traditions with our families connection to nature and community. Sadly we have not found a true community with any of the local synagogue, though we connected with one Rabbi. Instead I have taken time to create traditions within our family which blend all of our beliefs. We’ve started slowly, lighting candles on Friday nights, and celebrating a holidays. While the culture of being Jewish comes through in a lot of our life it is the spiritual part that I crave for myself and hope to create for my son.

When the High Holy Days approached this year and we started talking about them he adamantly stated that he did not want to go to Temple. He understood that we still needed to celebrate but wanted us to do it as a family, not with a bunch of strangers where we had to sit still and quiet. While I understand that many families use these holidays and others to teach their children about religion as well as sitting through services (I’ve heard “well I did it as a child so they should too” often from parents, as if the important piece of the holidays was to endure them), I want my Alder to see religion as something that comes from within not pushed on him.

So for Yom Kippur I decided that we would spend it high up in the mountains where we could have the quiet and space to reflect on our year past as well as the one to come. The one thing I knew I didn’t want to do was to approach the day as a chance for any of us to point out each others failings. I wanted to focus on the changes we wanted to make in ourselves. I wanted to leave our thoughts private for each of us. Yet I also wanted there to be some guided times, moments where we stopped exploring and sat together with words.

I went in search of some poems to read that would connect us to the meaning of the holiday. That is when I came across this post by a Rabbi from Western Mass. Everything she spoke about and the poems she chose seemed to connect to our lives right now so instead of recreating our own “service” I read what she said. There were three poems and commentary about how each related to the holiday. I spread the poems out over the day each one sparked a discussion which we then followed with a little time alone among the changing aspens. That was it, no pushing, no forcing.

This was the first time that I feel that I have found a good way of connecting our family to this particular holiday. Up until now our strongest connection has been with our Friday night dinners, which we make a little more special. It gives me the feeling that I am going in the right direction, as well as making me excited to learn more.

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