The Last 24 (Or, The New Adventures of Old Yom Kippur)

5 years ago

I knew I would be prompted to blog based on the dramatic way in which it began. As sundown approached the city, 6PM to be precise, my parents were leaving the runway of JFK on board a jet plane to Europe for a 2-week vacation. Meanwhile, I was meeting a friend and crew at an Italian restaurant on 39th and 9th, ready to eat myself to capacity before going to Kol Nidre service and enter what is the holiest 24 hours on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, with an intention to actually observe.

As I’ve written a few times on this blog, I grew up in a relatively unreligious reform Jewish household on Long Island. We followed a few of the norms of reform Jewish behavior such as Cliff Notes version Sedars on Passover (shout out to my Dad’s Famous Matzoh Brei served with Welsh's grape jelly). There was our regular attendance on the friends and family Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit, which came with a complete sense of inferiority as we sat in the Conservative shulle and didn’t understand what was happening. A Temple Beth Elohim membership, with its organ and choir, was like my Jewish town's equivalent of growing up “on the wrong side of the tracks”. There was my own show stopping Bat Mitzvah affair at said TBE and fabulous after party with the entertainment of Le Masquerade at the Sans Souci in Sea Cliff. The theme? Lindsay’s Manhattan Magic.

Hands up, baby. Hand. Up.

I loved our electric menorahs facing the street every year on Chanukah (it took ten minutes to figure out whether to light right to left or vice versa when facing the street) and, of course, the presents. I was lucky enough to receive a Christmas gift until I was old enough to be told not only that Santa Claus isn’t real, but if he was real he never would’ve been buying me my Cabbage Patch Dolls anyway because, well, Santa is not really in the business of spoiling Jewish people and couldn’t I tell from Rudolph’s nose, which is red and lacking any distinguishing feature of our tribe, that he was not one of us?

The Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur holy period, which consisted of more food and family rituals, was one that we also did in a very scaled back version. On Yom Kippur, my mom would fast but not my father, whose religion is sports and devil is the Republican party. He sleeps well at night and doesn’t need any one stop shopping school of forgiveness from an anthropomorphic castle in the sky god, now where are the keys (to my car not the castle), I’m going to find a bagel store that’s open for breakfast, thank you very much.

Yom Kippur is like Loemann’s, that department store where you find everything you need, including fabulous deals on designer items, all under one roof. That’s Yom Kippur for ya – a day to atone for every item in your previous year, from big-ticket transgressions like cheating on a spouse to smaller ones, like yelling at your brother for telling you to stop naval gazing already, you sound like that Julia Roberts character from that Love Pray Eat movie and further resenting him for not recognizing Elizabeth Gilbert by name or her literary chops, which you respect.

Essentially, on Yom Kippur, God is open for everything. And boy is He ready to listen, as well as judge, shame, bring you to your knees, hear, raise, forgive, love and bedazzle you and your slate so you can wake up and feel as fresh, shiny and rearing to go as a brilliant titanium MacBrook Pro.

I’m not sure if having my parents literally in the sky on the eve of Yom Kippur, thus joining God to form a holy trinity of the most guilt-inducing figures in my life all at once, motivated me further. Probably not. I think I would’ve felt ready to observe this holiday based solely on what I felt – that is, my own guilt, regret, and a deep need to forgive myself and others. Yes, after years of disregarding the holiest of holy Jewish days and having gone no closer to a temple on Yom Kippur than towards an unfriendly looking pit bull on the leash of a buff Chelsea boy, this year it was time to repent. In my mind and heart, I earned it.

The juicier post would be for me to go into some of the specifics but, sorry, let’s save the juice for a 3-day detox. Just trust me when I say that I had to get right with my maker, which may only be my conscience or Source energy loosely formed, I don’t know. Oh, to only know the secrets of the Universe. If you could, would you want to know? Or, just accept the mystery of it all?

I got down to atonement business at a service at the Javits Center run by a LBGTQIS(?) focused temple with a large following whose name escapes me. This, keeping with my theme of finding total acceptance of myself by hanging out with more and more gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning folks, and the people who love them. I’m not kidding. Some of my best friends in the world and closest family are gay and I Do Work in the Theaaaatre, but after I moved to Chelsea a month ago, which in case you don’t know is the heart of Manhattan’s gay community, I felt the real truth of the rainbow. Acceptance, baby!! And, truth be told, I have never been happier. After living on the Upper West Side for years, where I going to Fairway and seeing the endless array of bagel store bound families with baby carriages, I felt stifled and as out of place as I did when visiting that Conservative temple for a friend’s Bat Mitzvah and ashamed of my organ. Now I am happier than ever in my little downtown studio that may be noisy but is giving me my much needed, we're all good, breathing space.

It’s also nice because when I get the thought after a hot guy doesn’t check me out, Oh well, he’s probably gay, well, I’m probably right.

I am who I am. You are who you are. Be it. Bless it!!

Following the Kol Nidre service, which I honestly didn’t connect to as much as I would’ve hoped mainly because I found the operatic vocalists irritating and kind of halted at a line in the Reconstructionist text that said something to the effect of We reject the idea the Jews are the Chosen People (Come on, you're going to drop that, it's such a perk!), I went home.

I awoke Yom Kippur morning ready to go. My first stop was Grey Dog’s coffee (liquids were going to be okay for me, just no food) where I pulled out my laptop. No charge. Oops. No outlets, shit. Good thing I packed a notebook and pen. Guess I’m going old skool. Dear Higher Power, here is what I feel reaaaallllly bad about…

It all just flowed out of me and I found myself asking an unknown forgiver for forgiveness. Forgiveness for stuff I had done that was against my values, for thoughts and feelings I harbored that were rooted in excessive fear, doubt, anger, jealousy and anxiety. (Please forgive me for being human? Great, I’m confused.) I once read that when you harm the creation you are harming the creator. Whether that’s a Creator G-O-D or my parents, my ancestors, the energy of the divine, we are all connected. Hence, I started to feel that wherever I neglected myself, in some ways I neglected all of them, too. Us being all one and connected and stuff.

Then, I made a list of all the people and institutions that I felt anger, resentment, bitterness and judgment towards. Who and what did I need to forgive? Where am I holding a grudge? With whom do I got some kosher beef!?! Wouldn’t you know that list flowed out of me like the Nile. Some people believe that emotions when repressed, particularly anger and anxiety, manifest in physical ailments, from heart disease to back pain or migraines. The energy of the emotion finds it appearance in the physical. What was my body and heart telling me? That I was repressing a lot of feelings. I was pissed. So maybe it was time to LET GO.

I did. Mainly by writing, then by going to dance class with Patricia Moreno to shake it all out to J Lo’s new song, Papi. This was fast becoming Yom Kippur lite but I just knew I had a better chance of keeping my fast if I was out and about as opposed to sitting alone in my apartment. Hot. Then, it was off to a gathering with a theater company I’m in to go over some new short play submissions. (I’ll be directing the chosen ones for a staged reading on November 7th). Before I headed out for that gathering, I broke my fast by eating two apples with some hummus and a coconut water chaser but was grateful I at least I made it as far as I did -- 3 pm.

Progress not perfection, right?

Finally, it was time to meet my brother and friend at Lansky’s for a break fast dinner at sun almost down. First time in a while to do this having almost fasted and without my parents. I like that restaurant but because it got slammed around 7:30pm, our food was cold, late, and really not very tasty. Still, I managed to eat a ton, from the salty pickles and slaw to the roast turkey with gravy. I helped myself to my brother’s brisket, friend’s sweet potato fries and a full portion of my own sweet apple strudel dessert. WTF. I basically had to roll myself out of that restaurant to the nearest bodega for a roll of Tums. Not exactly how I wanted to end the day, this overeating to the point of a belly ache, which of course killed the happy, joyful blissful feeling I had going on from the high energy dance class, acting and, oh yeah, starving for 20 hours.

So, as I return to my normal life this morning, typing away on my shiny laptop at Grey Dog’s with a still queasy belly, body sore from dance class, and soul perhaps a bit freer thanks to yesterday’s reflections, my mixed foray into the holiest Jewish day now behind me and a new day ahead, I also return to the life I am doing my best to live and prefer. It is, among other things, one of balance.

No Loemann’s shopping style atonement, thanks, I will do mine in pieces and separates over time. No radical swings from starvation to gorging, I am back on a normal food plan without skipping meals. No long periods away from forgiving my self and the people in my life so that I have a backflow of resentment that portabella mushrooms out of proportion. I will go back to what I’ve learned in recovery, which is a daily inventory where I look at my thoughts, feelings and actions in the name of love not judgment, find forgiveness and let go.

No more excessive guilt that isn’t even warranted. Most of what I felt so bad about isn’t even that bad at all. It’s just very human. Imperfect. Part of growing up and earning your self-discovery and maturation badge…

Most importantly, what I hope so deeply for myself this coming year, is to treat myself with more love, self care, and compassion than ever before and to be stronger, happier and freer than the last 365. Because what I felt MOST guilty about as I wrote my letter to the Divine listener was not how I mistreated others in thoughts, words or deeds, although I definitely had some good material, but for not being a nicer human being to ME.

So, God, if you’re listening, just know that next year at this time there is a pretty good chance my atonement list will be a bit shorter, less interesting and more mild. It may even put you to sleep. Feel free to join me at Grey Dog’s in Chelsea for a strong coffee perk. Everybody is accepted here.

With love,
Lindsay

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