By Sherri W. Morr
So many Yom Kippurs. So many stories.
As a young elementary school aged little girl trying to steal my way into the adult services in the main sanctuary to see my parents & grandparents. Not able to stay put at all in the boring Junior Congregation of its time. Watching so many of the New York Jews (including my own grandma) wearing their mink stoles in the stifling heat of the southern city we had immigrated to. Experiencing for the very first time a very mean synagogue official guarding the door to the main sanctuary: no ticket, no admittance. My little friends and I used every excuse we could think of including sickness and vomiting, but no way were we allowed in.
As a teenager when the temple emptied for yizkor we, all of us, tried to stay in, but the YK police guard as we came to call him, walked up and down the aisles and scooted us and many others out. Invariably he asked for our tickets … I do not have to repeat the response.
I skipped YK as a young adult for a variety of seemingly obvious reasons. Little money, little affiliation, and little family partaking so why bother. I had no chevra at the time, was trying to find myself, figure out who I was and doubted I would make such discoveries in a temple. Some doctor, way back when, advised skipping fasting because I was too thin, so I used that as an early predecessor to no YK attendance. Seemed to make sense to me at the time … if you were eating on YK, you may as well skip shul and go to the movies, or shopping. Even then shopping on Yom Kippur meant enormous personal attention – no one else was in the store. I had no knowledge at all of any Reform temple that offered a lunch break.
Somewhere, somehow after all of this I met and married a Modern Orthodox man. I took a few classes, learned the rules and regs and actually thought I could do it … be religious that is. Not 100% of course but enough to get by, to make friends and be a part of something larger than myself. Unfortunately it only worked for a short time; before I began to feel I was choking all the time. I mean really, what is exactly the big deal about bread crumbs, or Jell-O or cheese. It is not shrimp and lobster or G-D forbid that dirty pork. I liked some of it, being frum, that is, but most of it appeared so small minded to me, and again who cared if you did not wear tennis shoes on YK. As a true act of rebellion, I have never worn them on YK. I wear them other times, maybe Purim, but never on YK. And I do not, would not cover my head, or other body parts (as in arms & legs) for fear some man would look. Those men should figure out for themselves how to not look. To me that is a clear responsibility of an Orthodox man; it’s not my job.
One year while Orthodox, walking back to shul on YK (after a nap & ok and maybe a small snack) I was bitten by a dog. A dog being walked with a leash, just bit me as I walked by. I was not hurt but did have a rather large hole in my skirt. The owner was shocked, no more than I.
Should I go home? That would have meant being very late for Neilah which I liked. But to go to an Orthodox synagogue on YK with a hole in my skirt, which I had gotten doing something most people did not, well it made me uncomfortable. Then I realized without tennis shoes I was already trefe so may as well just carry on.
Twenty plus years out of the Modern Orthodox community I had become a professional Jew. Not in rules & regs but in community service, social justice, pro-Israel, and raising money in the Jewish way. I read Jewish authors, not Rambam who originally I thought was perhaps a fashion designer, but those who detailed the immigrant experience, commentators who chronicled the labor movement in New York, and of course Israeli authors who lamented the good and the bad of a Jewish State. I was a known source to being knowledgeable about rules & regs. When my organization asked about making a motzi and washing, I could tell them the origins and why. I could say if you do one, it important to do the others, and yes offer benching after the meal as well.
In the last 10 years or so I have returned. Awakened perhaps by the shofar, being part of Ikar & Chai Village LA, or what I have learned is Elul prep. So much on-line Jewish learning, available just for the looking. How did we ever manage before these more than ample opportunities to learn and connect. From the Accidental Talmudist to eJewish Philanthropy, to My Jewish Learning, Israel 21c, The Times of Israel, and excellent newsletters of the Forward, Tablet and still yes in the real live mail, Moment Magazine.
With so much ongoing education at such a mature age I almost forget to not wear tennis shoes.
An easy fast, a chance to be sealed and inscribed. G’mar tov.
Sherri has spent the last several decades working & consulting in and out of the Jewish community. Most Recently she was the Director for the West Coast for the American Society of University of Haifa. Prior to this she was director for the Western States for 12 years at Jewish National Fund.