Tonight is Erev Rosh HaShanah, the beginning of Judaism’s Ten Days of Awe that end at sundown on Yom Kippur. Millions of Jews will undoubtedly go to synagogue during this period. I won’t be one of them.
My reason for not going is simple: I find the experience unfulfilling. When I do participate in conventional Jewish prayer I find myself arguing with what I am reading. I don’t relate to the metaphor of God as father, king, and lord; I don’t believe that God is in control of my life; and I find the medieval worldview of the machzor (High Holy Day prayer book) incompatible with what I know to be true about life. So rather than sit and complain, I stay home.
I am not alone in this, and this post is for those Jews who choose to stay home for the Holy Days. What shall you do with your time? Let me share what I do with mine.
I will spend most of tomorrow morning walking in the woods by the creek near my home. I will chant and pray and talk with God, allowing that the Infinite All can manifest as a finite One with whom I can meet and dialogue. I will spend the afternoon studying Jewish texts: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job for these are the books that speak to me most powerfully. In the evening I will gather with my family to renew ourselves as a family, and to share our thoughts about where we are as a new year unfurls.
During the intervening days I will seek forgiveness, humbling myself until I flow like water into the low and narrow places within me that need watering that the seeds of holiness trapped there can expand and grow and shatter the narrows, and experience and share the spaciousness of love and forgiveness. And I will give tzedakah (monetary donations) to help those, both human and canine, whose lives are bleak and broken.
I will spend Yom Kippur: fasting, walking, praying, and studying. And I will do so alone. I have community in my life, but I find that this time of year is best met alone. That’s just me. But if I were a rabbi of a community, I would no longer ask them to dress in restrictive clothing, sit in a windowless room breathing stale air, and reading old books. I would invite them to wear lose clothes and comfortable shoes, and to walk with me beside still waters, to lay with be in green pastures, allowing the rustling trees to be our liturgy, and the chirping birds to be our cantors, and the babbling brook to be our rabbi teaching us to walk the watercourse way of humility, justice, and compassion.
So for all those who choose not to attend synagogue, know that you are not bad or disloyal or even alone. Honor the holy days in whatever way allows you to deepen your humanity. And may you in this way find blessing, sweetness, and peace this New Year.