Thursday, October 13, 2016

Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur, and Vera

This is the last of a series of blog posts discussing the Jewish High Holy Days.

Kol Nidre (say: KOHL NEE-dray), or literally "all vows," is another way, at least for me it is, to say the Evening of, or Erev, Yom Kippur (say: YOHM kee-POOR).  For the rest of the congregation at my synagogue/shul/temple/place of Jewish worship, it depends on your "tradition."

"If it is in your tradition...." a clergy member would say, for example, before the Mourners' Kaddish (say: KAH-dish).

Tradition?  Like family tradition?  Yes, it does mean like however your family observes Jewish customs.  Like standing or sitting during certain portions of the service, where permissible.

Yeah, the only tradition that has stuck with me have been only inconsistent ones.  As I sit here and compose this entry, I'm trying to think what do I do, consistently, every year, religious or secular, as a "tradition".

I celebrate my birthday.  Been doing that every January 14 for at least 30 or more years.

I honor My Cookie, which I had inscribed on the body of this so-called life every August 1 since I got it in 2014.

Also since 2014, I celebrate the Escape from Troll Central Station every October 1.

But as for Jewish traditions, I absolutely fail miserably at this.  I don't even have candles for either Shabbat or Havdalah (say: hahv-DAHL-ah) as a weekly tradition (my excuse for a reason? Poor air circulation at My Happy Place).  I don't have any children to bless (don't get me started on that) or anyone to bless for that matter.  So yeah, I suck at being a basic Jew.

This is actually a perfect opportunity for me to say to both my rabbi and my rebbetzin, "kol nidre."  To say "kol nidre" is to say to the congregation and to G-d, if you believe in such, that you will vow to do more in the upcoming year if you are "inscribed into the Book of Life" for the upcoming Jewish year.  Having a mezuzah (say: meh-ZOO-zah) on the exterior of my door frame is probably not enough.  I should be doing more, like performing the Shabbat blessings and the Havdalah ritual.

(Note to self: need to purchase electronic candles, a besamim, and some good aromatics.)

During the Kol Nidre service, a cellist would perform a song of the same name as the service.  This "Kol Nidre" song was written by Max Bruch, a composer who was described as an anti-Semitic Lutheran Christian.  To put it into context, the clash of the observance, song, and composer would be equivalent to hearing this song performed as the theme for a conference ran by these folks.  Let that marinate for a few minutes.

Much like Erev and Boker Rosh Hashanah, the liturgical format is very similar from the start of the evening service to the end of the morning service.  What really separates Yom Kippur from Rosh Hashanah (and probably all other Jewish observances for that matter), however, is this:

Yom Kippur, regardless on what day it falls on, is observed as Shabbat, like, the Shabbat of Shabbats (HaShabbat Shabbaton).

Yom Kippur literally means "Day of Atonement."  Whereas Christians would pray for forgiveness any chance they would get (a confessional, making amends, begging for mercy) and then BOOM! instant salvation from their messiah, we Jews already know what's about to go down.   Whereas on Rosh Hashanah we ask G-d to "inscribe our names into the Book of Life," on Yom Kippur we ask G-d to "seal our names into the Book of Life."  At first we pray to have our names written down in pencil, theoretically, during the Book of Life's rough draft; by the final copy, we pray to have our names permanently inked, to be allowed to live one more year.

We are not a perfect bunch of humans.  In fact, we make oodles of errors on the daily.  Sometimes, whether we realize it or not, we hurt the people we love, whether they tell us or not.  We lie, we cheat, and we steal, probably not as good as one Eddie Guerrero, z"l, but you get the proverbial drift (if you are not familiar with professional wrestling, the phrase "I lie, I cheat, I steal" was Guerrero's tagline in his final years as a wrestler before his untimely death in 2005).  For that and other things we have done wrong, as Jews we return, we atone, and we forgive.

As well on Yom Kippur, not only do we Jews ask G-d to seal us in for one more year in the Book of Life, we also abstain from anything "pleasurable;" no food or water (an exception is made for folks who need sustainable nourishment to fully utilize their dosages of medication; then again, only enough sustainable nourishment and that's it), no bathing (back in the old country, bathing was a luxury; I think it still is in some areas around the world), no perfume or deodorant, no brushing teeth or flossing, no makeup, no leather attire, and no sex.  Also see: Vera's Present Life.

The purpose of this abstaining from all of these things during Yom Kippur is to remind us that:
  1. None of these things will matter once we die, because we will be dead.  And yes, utilizing all five senses on top of a grumbly belly is supposed to make one feel like a hired extra on the television series, "The Walking Dead."
  2. Since material things do not matter when we die, ideals do matter.  How do we want to be remembered by?  Were we upstanding citizens?  Did we help out oppressed individuals and people by pursuing tzedek (say: TZEH-dehk), or justice for them?  Or, did we hoard up enough of a financial mass that the best way to be thought postmortem of is having about a dozen buildings throughout the area be named after us?
  3. The three tenants of Judaism are G-d (if you believe there is one), the Torah, and the community.  On Yom Kippur, the community tenant is highlighted feverishly; we mourn over our losses as a community, we atone together as a community, we forgive one another as a community.  It doesn't get any clearer than this.
And that's just two-thirds of the day being completed.

At my synagogue, we have more action and adventure in store.  In between morning and afternoon services, there is a gap of time, approximately 2.5 to 3 hours.  We still can't eat (unless timely medicine being administered requires the adequate amount of sustainable nourishment).  What do we do?  Luckily, my synagogue has a couple of programs to fill up the time so that folks don't have to use as much energy.

The first program involves a music meditation.  We have musicians come in and play somber tunes to help us keep in mind that this Holiest of Holy Days is not a yippee yahoo celebratory day, but rather this is a day of personal reflection and a commitment to do more.  Some people sit and reflect; others actually nap, which is actually very smart.  If you can't restore your energy with food, restore it with a quick snooze.

The second program features a social action lecture.  As if being lectured by hangry clergyfolks weren't bad enough, now we have special guests to tell us how we can make bigger steps toward tikkun olam.  This year's lecture topic was about racism and white privilege.  Personally, I didn't learn much from the lecture because what the speaker had to say I already know: I benefit more in life because, well, I am White.

When getting hired during my birth name days, employers sought out names that were "white-sounding," and you better believe with a name like Vera Pletin (my birth name), that individual HAD to be White.  When I worked for Defense Finance and Accounting Service, even though I didn't think to myself that being White would automatically get me hired, chances are that I was selected to serve my country, as a civilian, with a completely shitty (but honest) combination of employment and education because I was White.  I could have also been hired because I was (at the time identified as) a woman, or that I was hired because I had listed my disabilities (including the fact that I was Autistic).  But during the summer of 2008, before Barack Obama was elected to be president, there was a stir of "racial preference" in the air; overt enough to know it was there, covert enough to turn a proverbial blind eye to it.

Needless to say, I left the lecture about 20 minutes before it ended.

Now, we get into the afternoon service.  It's long.  It's tiresome.  It's going into the proverbial trenches in the war during a heavy rainfall.  Lots of standing.  Lots of sitting.  Lots of groans from empty stomachs.  Oh look, another Grand Aleinu!  More sermons.  More singing.  More ugh is this sumbitch fucking over yet?

The afternoon service goes right into a Yizkor (say: YIHZ-ker), or memorial service.  Yizkor, meaning "May G-d remember", services are done only four times a year, during Yom Kippur,
Shemini Atzeret (say: sheh-mee-NEE ah-TZEH-reht), the last day of Pesach, and the second day of Shavuot (say: shah-voo-OHT).  This memorial service is where, again, the community plays a big factor in comfort and love with one another.  At my synagogue, the clergy read the names of temple members who had died in the past (Jewish) calendar year.

Finally - FINALLY - the last service comes into play with the Neilah (say: NEE-lah) service.  Also see: LAST CALL TO GET YOUR ATONEMENTS IN BEFORE THE SPIRITUAL ARK CLOSES.  Basically.  Folks will line up in one row to go up to the ark, which holds the Torah scrolls, and spend a few seconds in a personal social messaging exchange between themselves and G-d (or some other higher power).  This part of the service is optional; not everyone has to do it, but it does give the clergy something to do while the line continues, and that's to sing hymns and prayers with the congregation.

When all that is done, the final touches include observing Havdalah; blessing the wine, the fruits and herbs within the besamim, and a lit multi-wick candle, before the flame is extinguished.

People start shouting and cheering that this somber day of death and taxes is finally over.  Hell, even some of the clergy will join in on the celebration; they can finally take down their personal schvitz locker for a white robe and relax.  And the food comes out!  FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD!

Yes, it's that serious.  And long, like this blog post.  Holy Shaker Heights, what the hell did I just compose?

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