Two years ago, I joined Sam for High Holy Day Services for the first time. In preparation, he tried explaining the major rituals and meaning behind them to me. At the time, I picked up that there was something about eating apples and honey, spending an entire day at services, and not eating or drinking anything from sundown to sundown during Yom Kippur. Yikes!
What I did’t realize was that, in Sam’s family, apples and honey weren’t the only traditional foods; that was the first time I had Sam’s grandmother’s AMAZING brisket. Even the break the fast meal, after Yom Kippur, had a variety of bagels and lox, spreads and jams and jellies, the best oatmeal I’ve ever had, and all sorts of other wonderful food. Throughout the years, I have come to realize that there is good food at every Jewish function.
The first year, I was worried about spending a full day at services. I had been to hour-long Shabbat evening services with Sam before, and the thought of spending two entire days at the synagogue scared me. All I could think of was those times as a child when the hour-long Sunday Mass felt like an eternity. However, when Rosh Hashanah morning services started, I got so mesmerized in the music that the three-hour-long service was over before I knew it. I had no problem going back for second day services. That first year, I had no idea what was being chanted, but the harmonies with the cantor, choir, and organ were absolutely beautiful. Fast forward a few years and I have taken an Intro to Judaism class and understand a little bit of Hebrew, and the Kol Nidre prayer speaks to me as a gut-wrenching prayer of forgiveness, not just a haunting melody.
The other thing I was worried about that first year was the Yom Kippur fast, which we’ve discussed in this space before. There are a few days during the Catholic liturgical calendar that call for fasting, in which you may eat one full meal during the day. With the Yom Kippur fast, however, you may not eat, drink or consume anything from sundown to sundown. Even though we all ate a rather large meal to start the fast and then another huge meal to break the fast, this was still very difficult for me. The following year, it became less difficult and in its own strange way, it is kind of comforting to really enjoy the fullness of the day itself. Going for a walk, taking a nap, enjoying time to read, not having to worry about work, turning off your phone and computer, and just having a day removed from the high demands and stress of life was relaxing in a way I’d never before experienced.
As I look forward to spending my third set of High Holy Days with Sam, they have become less daunting and more meaningful than they were even two years ago. They are a time for introspection, forgiveness, good food, enjoying the fullness of the day, and being with family. I’m glad that in just a few days, I’ll be able to enjoy them as an official part of Sam’s family.