These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Playing a game of nighttime daytime…

Posted on September 16, 2013 by Sam Stern

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From my blog:

This is no ordinary lamp. It once changed the course of a young man’s life. A young man, who, like this lamp, was more than what he seemed. A diamond in the rough.

920506_10152870514840287_222669646_oYom Kippur did not bring about the fast that I had expected. During my Friday afternoon prep, I made sure to pack a bag of tissues to prevent the snot-tastrophe of Rosh Hashanna. As it turns out, I didn’t need any of them. Davening proved to be extremely frustrating until we hit Mincha. But let’s back track first. My story (in a super small nutshell) goes as follows:

During my various experiences at school, I made the decision to be Shomer Shabbat. I started asking a million questions and took on every learning experience that I could get my hands on. At some point, I was informed that I wasn’t Halachically Jewish. Now this came as a huge slap in the face. I was raised Jewish. I believed in this stuff. How could anyone look at me and tell me that it was all an illusion? In the months following that conversation, I felt completely disconnected from the Jewish world. The anxiety would build up just walking past Chabad on the way to campus. Being the Director of Shabbat Experience became a nearly impossible task. Praying was absolutely out of the question. There’s no way that the God I believed in could possibly allow someone to take my identity away from me. I was hurt and angry and felt nothing but betrayal. My faith was shot for awhile. It took some time to get things back on track but my relationship with God hadn’t fully repaired itself. There was still a lot of anger and confusion present but I tried to look at it as any relationship. You get angry at your lover and then kiss and make up. It’s all part of the game. All I could do was continue praying in hopes that things would smooth out. Then I hopped on a plane to dedicate a year to understanding the ways of the community that I so deeply wanted to be a part of.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m in Jerusalem. Maybe it’s a result of the few classes we’ve had at Pardes. Maybe it’s a matter of the people I’ve been meeting or the conversations I’ve been able to engage in. Whatever it was, I had such a sense of clarity by the time Yom Kippur was over. It seemed (at first) that my prayers were completely empty. All I could feel was a grumbly stomach and the beginnings of a massive headache. My heart seemed to be hiding. For someone who almost always connected to prayer on a deeper level, this was beyond frustrating. Why wasn’t I connecting? It finally hit me at Mincha- I didn’t feel the usual turmoil because, for once, I was completely at peace. The time period during the Days of Awe was such an intense journey. I was forced to examine my life from so many different perspectives that I finally had a complete picture. It became so clear that God had never betrayed me. The anger and frustration had left. I was completely at ease for the first time in months.

This, hands down, was the most meaningful Yom Kippur I’ve yet to experience. It wasn’t just about my journey but about the day as a whole. To sum it up, here’s a video:

The entire 25-hour period was full of contrast. We sat through Kol Nidrei Friday night and then left shul to see every single Israeli out in the streets. It was like happy hour without the drinks. And the bikes? Kids everywhere on bikes! You thought you were finally safe from crazy Israeli drivers but their 4-year-olds on bicycles are just as bad. Then there’s the actual content during the service. We go from singing upbeat praises about Hashem to standing hunched over, humbly acknowledging all of our sins. During the Temple Service, we find ourselves on the floor as an expression of total submission to God. It ends in a celebration that the Cohen Gadol was able to atone for all of our sins and actually made it out alive. People were singing and clapping and parading around shul. Who knew such things could take place on Yom Kippur.

The final blast of the shofar opened the tear gates (signature move…it had to happen). This piercing sound marked the end of the intense 10 day journey we had just traveled along. The past 25 hours alone were a complete roller coaster. I had done everything I possibly could to find favor in Hashem’s eyes. The reality of everything started to set in and I was left to feel nothing but awe.

I feel confident moving forward and can finally say that I’m excited to see what comes next. Only time will tell what this year will bring.