My first High Holy days were fantastic. I was nervous, cautious, and sat in the back. My new community Nefesh gathered at the fellowship hall at a city park, around the corner from where I used to live. Erev Rosh Hashanah (night of, Sept 29) started at sundown and I was up bright eyed and bushy-tailed (and under-caffeinated) the next morning for the main event.
(Wondering about the title here? Hot Girl Summer is a dumb caption or tag the kids are using over the summer months. Instagram served me up a Hot Girl Rosh Hashanah gif sticker option, unprompted, so here we are. It’s just silly enough to make me feel better about being insecure about my first HHD).
This was all new to me, and lengthy, and valuable. One of the great things Rabbi Susan Goldberg does at Nefesh is has us interact during services, starting with introducing yourself to those around you and later having short chats around a prompt.
I do this stuff all the time with The Mankind Project, but I’ve sat in those circles for 3 years. This is a new language, history, traditions, community, and religion. It can be intimidating, so much like in my men’s work, I’m learning to be kind to myself.
This being the Jewish New Year those talks were around self-improvement. The notion of New Year’s Resolutions in secular culture probably derives from this (see also: Spring cleaning, which Jews do for Pesach or Passover). During the 40-day period leading up to Yom Kippur Jews are asked to reflect on the year behind, the year ahead, and to make Teshuvah. You may hear this defined as “repentance”, but that’s a disservice; it’s translated as “returning” and it’s more about making amends.
When we learned of this in class I was struck in particular by the process: You can’t just ask God for forgiveness if you wronged someone. You must ask that person. This is fascinating to me having grown up in Christian culture which very much taught me that you ask God for forgiveness and He grants it. I repeatedly witnessed people do this and never make amends with the person affected and it was gross to me. In fact I saw people intentionally do harm, repent, and pretend like things were square. This always drove me mad. It makes the world a worse place, it’s a cop-out, and yes, it’s common. (Read my last entry: Trump & Teshuvah)
Most famously, you can be a mass murder and repent before a priest or cleric and supposedly all is cool and you’re going to heaven. Did you accept JC as your Lord and Savior? Sweet, you’re done. There’s no formal dogma requiring you to, you know, actually ask forgiveness from those you harmed.
And in that particular scenario Judaism teaches something fascinating as well: You can’t ask the dead for forgiveness. Murder is unforgivable. Will God forgive you? Who knows. But your victims can not. Same for rape.
I’m of course not comparing gossip and slights to murder. But that Christianity has abandoned this precept for a focus on the afterlife in general is my primary gripe and reason I rejected it as a young person. Progressives are vocal lately in begrudging “thoughts and prayers” instead of actual action after each mass shooting. Taking action is baked into Judaism as it is into progressive thought.
Judaism focuses on this life, this world, and doing good. We are obligated in multiple ways to help others and heal the world.
- Queering the Jewish Holidays by Vanessa
- NuRoots LA | NuRoots on Instagram
- Eastside Jews at SLIJCC
- For ‘East Side Jews,’ a hipster take on spirituality at LA Times