Kvetch or Kvell: The Post Yom Kippur Conundrum
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Yom Kippur has concluded. The break-the-fast has been consumed, and the prayers about becoming the person we could be are now a memory. Now you – and every other Jew and Jewish family must decide: whether to kvetch or kvell.
Kvetching is that typically Jewish act of complaining.
We Jews love to kvetch, loudly and regularly about things big and small. We kvetch about our families. We kvetch about our kids. We kvetch about our jobs, spouses/partners, the economy, and the government… everything. After High Holy Day services, everyone seems to have something to kvetch about.
This one doesn’t like the rabbi’s sermon topic, its delivery or its message.
That one dislikes the cantor’s voice, musical selections or speed of davening.
Others have concerns about the clarity of the livestream feed, the conduct of the people sitting in front of them, or the length of the service. Kvetching seems so typically Jewish.
Kvelling is about offering praise.
To be a Jew is to be a kveller! Kvelling lets others know that good things are happening. It allows us to count our blessings. We could be praising the important things: our health, our relative wealth (we always have more than others somewhere), the roof over our heads, and the community of which we are part.
After the High Holy Days, we could kvell about:
The intense preparation the rabbi put into crafting the sermon.
The musical variety the cantor brought to the service.
The passion of the volunteers and staff who spent weeks and months preparing for these services.
The prayer moment that was meaningful, the melody that moved us, the families gathered together for the holy days.
We might not love everything that happens during the high holy days, but we should observe and comment upon with kindness the tremendous work that went into creating monumental religious experiences for the rest of us. Besides, you know how hard it is to keep everyone happy in your family,. Can you imagine how challenging it is to bring inspiration and contentment to a whole congregation of individuals and families?
Why do some people prioritize kvetching over kvelling?
After 25 hours of Yom Kippur dedicated to exploring how we could be improve our relationships with others, why do so many make kvetching their first order of business post-prayer service?
Sure, our biblical ancestors acted similarly. Not days after God saved them from Egyptian bondage with 10 mighty plagues and a sea-splitting miracle, they descended quickly into constantly kvetching: about the food, the lack of water, the danger from enemies, and about Moses’ leadership. Such a typical Jewish act, and yet, kvetching is truly the antithesis of what it means to be authentically Jewish.
Post Yom Kippur, we should put our best foot, and our most compassionate kvell, forward.
Nothing will make your clergy, synagogue staff and volunteers feel more accomplished than an email from you praising their work. One year, I received this letter from a congregant. It made my day. Another year, I began saving and sharing the positive emails we received from worshippers so that we could catalogue the deep spiritual journey our staff and volunteers helped birth. It helped the volunteers justify the time spent away from families to facilitate the spiritual experience for us all.
So this year, buck the trend
Make the first order of business for your Jewish year to kvell to the people who guided you into the new year. Write an email, send a text, author a Facebook post, or tweet a tweet to your rabbi, cantor, executive director, synagogue president, educator, Jewish professional (or all of them at once). Share three specific kvells about your High Holy Days experience that were particularly meaningful or inspiring. Be a positive Jewish role model: leave out the kvetches.
When can we kvetch?
We teach our worshippers at Congregation Or Ami to wait three days before passing on the kvetches. Problems with the air conditioning or the sound system, disagreement with the rabbi’s topic, or preference for a different musical selection, need not be the primary communication to a group of people who worked for months to make your annual trek into synagogue holiness. If, after three days, the kvetches still seem to be important and relevant, then send them along, but only if you first sent along a message of kvelling, and then only if sandwiched between a bunch of praises, and only with the compassion worthy of a newly minted sin–free Jew.
As we journey forth into the New Year, let’s be the blessing God intended us to be. We can go the distance by distancing ourselves from kvetches.
L’shana Tova! May your new year be one of kvelling, not kvetching, so your life fills up with blessing.
Rabbi Paul Kipnes is rabbi of Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, California and blogs at Or Am I?