9 Ways to Elevate Yourself for Yom Kippur
Unlocking your spiritual potential + podcast recs + a question
Something on my mind…
I had an amazing, spiritual Rosh Hashanah last weekend exploring four different local Jewish organizations! However, maybe it’s because I’m Ashkenazi, but two things didn’t sit right with my stomach, and they are:
One happy hour I went to had tables of food: one table had meat, platters of roast beef sandwiches and chicken skewers, and the other table had cheese and crackers. Look, I know I’m not the most kosher Jew on the Upper East Side, but to me, having both meat and cheese at a Jewish event - no matter the denomination - seems insensitive. Why not serve just meat or cheese?
Another event had a fake ball drop and countdown to ring in the new year. The gesture was cute, and don’t get me wrong - I love celebrating New Year’s Eve - but it detracted from the point of Rosh Hashanah, let alone the fact that the Jewish calendar is lunisolar, meaning it follows both the moon and sun, so the new year had already started after sunset the previous night as we headed into the month of Tishrei, something they would have known had they read last week’s drop!
I don’t mean to sound like a Rosh Hashanah Grinch, and aside from these two points, I’m fun at parties, I swear. Rather, it got me thinking: Is it better to educate on Jewish practices and follow traditions to at least some extent when Jews gather, or is it enough that Jews are gathering and having a good time regardless of Jewish learning? I guess it’s a matter of cultural and religious level. I work in Jewish education so you can probably guess my answer. I’d love to know your thoughts on this - please share in the comments!
Back to our regularly scheduled programming…
We are in the Days of Awe, people. Or as my comedian friend calls it, the Days of Ha.
This means we’re in between Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a deeply spiritual time. I just heard on a Jewish podcast, “This month is a boot camp for how to live well.”
The other day, someone who is Jewish asked me what Rosh Hashanah is all about, because it sure as heck isn’t about counting down to midnight to welcome the new year, nor is it about eating sweet treats like apples and honey, though that is part of it.
It’s about one word: teshuvah. Of course, teshuvah is much more than a word. Literally meaning “returning,” it encapsulates repentance and examining one’s ways, and in that way I think the translation is absolutely beautiful.
How do you return to yourself? This term can be daunting for some because they may associate it with going to synagogue and praying for Gd’s forgiveness. Luckily, there’s simple ways to be a better person and you can start right now, no synagogue required! Judaism on the go - how fun! And just in time for Yom Kippur, which starts Sunday evening (remember the whole lunisolar concept?). Consider applying the following to your life over the next few days and hopefully beyond as a way to help return to yourself. A spiritual re-jew-vination if you will.
Think of those you have wronged in the past year. During this time of year, Jews write a general statement on social media saying, “If I have wronged you in the past year, please forgive me.” I always find this funny as if it’s supposed to be meaningful. I also don’t think it’s always healthy to bring up past wounds directly to someone, but thinking about someone who you may have broken a promise to, or haven’t called in a while, or gossiped about sets the tone for the forthcoming year. Maybe you’ll try to do right by them and even reach out positively. Who knows, maybe I will finally open all of my dad’s emails so he stops asking me if I’ve read his emails.
Call someone to let them know you’re thinking about them. A spontaneous phone call is always a lovely gesture! Unless you’re like me and assume someone is calling because someone has died. Okay maybe text them first and say, “Hey, I know it’s been a while but I’d love to schedule some time for us to catch up. I really miss you.” The world would be a better place if we checked in with our loved ones more often. Or go the extra mile and send someone a handwritten letter. Wow!
Journal. For your mental health. To review yourself. If you’re feeling lonely. To work out a problem. If you don’t know how to start, I like to break up areas of life: work, friends, family, love, exercise, etc. and write a few sentences on how I’m doing in each category and how I’d like to improve. Or you could:
Do some soul accounting (cheshbon ha nefesh) and ask yourself: What did I accomplish this past year? Am I involved in contributing to bettering the world? What am I looking to let go of? What are my goals and aspirations for the coming year? Answers could be on paper or in your head. Or with a friend! Or on DoYou10Q like I mentioned last week.
Give. If you live in a city like me, you may get asked for money a few times a week. In fact, last week I was out running errands before Shabbos and a woman on the street asked me for some money. She mentioned she has a job interview next week and how tonight is the first night of Rosh Hashanah. I was devastated that I didn’t have any bills on me, because in Judaism it’s required to give a fellow Jew money when asked. This week, I’ve made sure to have a few extra bills on hand. This is when giving matters because we’re setting the tone for the year to come: a year of giving! If you don’t live in a city where people come up to you asking for help, here are some opportunities to give: support my colleague whose family is going through a rough time, or donate to Moroccan earthquake victims.
Think before you speak or do. I’m particularly embracing this one this year. Before you complain to your coworker about how unfair your latest assignment is, ask yourself: Do I really need to complain? Will it help anything? Before you sit and watch TV for an hour to put off writing your weekly Jewish newsletter, ask yourself: Do I really need to procrastinate? Again, this is all about tone and intention setting for the year to come.
Pray for someone who is in need of healing. Even if you don’t know mi sheberach, hold that person in your thoughts. Maybe let their loved ones know you are thinking of them as well. If you need some names, message me!
Pray for or think of the dead. It’s common during the High Holiday season to think about and honor deceased loved ones. Again, you don’t need to get fancy and recite the whole kaddish to honor the dead. Just thinking of someone will elevate their soul and in turn touch your soul. You could kill two birds with one stone (oy no pun intended) and give tzedakah in honor of a deceased loved one to mourn them through charity!
Meditate. Yeah, I bet you saw this one coming. Before you roll your eyes, there’s different ways to meditate that don’t involve sitting straight as a board atop a cushion. You can walk without listening to music or without talking on the phone, focusing on your steps and your breath. You can close your eyes and contemplate anything, be it your happy place, someone you admire, whatever makes your soul sing. Lastly, you can listen to a podcast on Jewish meditation, like this one I can’t recommend enough, and this new one!
If you practice any of these, let me know how it goes for you! May you have a meaningful and easy fast.
In all transparency, I was going to cancel the upcoming virtual book club meeting and only make it in person (stay tuned for in-person NYC meetings though!), but we’re getting sign ups and I’m feeling inspired. Even if you’ve never read Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz, former Obama speech writer and wandering Jew, or if you’re read some of it, join us for what will be in engaging virtual discussion on Jewish identity!
Shabbat Shalom and thank you so much for reading.