Virag Gulyas
Non-Jewish Zionist, Common Sense Activist

I Most Probably Did It Wrong But I Did Yom Kippur

I’m not here to offend anyone. If you read my past writings, you’ll know I’m not here for that. And if you’ve ever read anything from me, you’ll also know that I am a Christian but am much closer to Judaism.

Six years ago, I had no idea Yom Kippur existed. I had also no idea about so many things: why people attack Israel; how beautiful Hebrew sounds; what spirituality means; how many amazing layers Judaism has; how the most diverse people will welcome me to their Shabbat tables; or how Israel has become my second home without ever living there.

Five years ago, I still had no idea about Yom Kippur. But by then, I knew what Rosh Hashanah meant, and I started to understand why people attack Israel, and I understood the Shabbat part.

Regardless of my openness, willingness, and hunger to know more, I can’t seem to learn fast enough for my liking. But perhaps I am learning everything just at the right pace. Perhaps I am learning everything at a pace that allows me to digest, assess and enjoy the journey I have embarked on four years ago when I fell in love with an Israeli and Israel.

Some friends say if I fall for Israel, I should just convert to Judaism. Why overcomplicate things?

But I just can’t function that way.

Loving Israel and getting drawn into Judaism is an exciting but a complicated journey. And each time I sit down to write about my internal thoughts, I am afraid that I am going to hurt you, offend you, or say something that is not acceptable to you – the Jewish people. I was told I shouldn’t care so much since you wouldn’t worry so much if you would hurt me or my Christian beliefs.

Would you? I think you would.

Back to the issue at hand – I learned about Yom Kippur last year. I heard the story from my boyfriend who explained to me what happens during those 25 hours. But that Yom Kippur day passed by without any deeper meaning to me. The only thing I recall is that image I saw online of the empty highways crossing Tel Aviv. They gave me goosebumps running up and down my arms. I thought, what I always think when I refer to Israel: that no matter what you think of yourself, you are so strong as a nation.

This year, as Yom Kippur has already ended in Israel, I am sitting in my empty Manhattan office. Most of the people around me are still fasting and soon going to their Temple services and end their fast. But since yesterday evening as the Erev of Yom Kippur settled in, I had a deep desire to understand everything. Why you do what you do, how you do, and where does it lead you?

The first thing I looked up was what to wish to the people around me. So I wished them a meaningful fasting. Then I looked up why I wish this at all. Then I looked up why you are fasting.  And then I decided I would go fasting, too. My boss/mentor/friend laughed at me saying “you don’t need to do this, you know.” I said, “I know. But I can do half Yom Kippur – at least the Yom part.”

I didn’t make it. I was starving. I needed coffee.

Fasting is emotional for me since it brings up memories from my ballet dancer past. Fasting comes easy and I use to be able to go with it for days – but the reason ballet dancers do fasting hurts your psyche and your body. I think Yom Kippur should do you well. So I failed the ‘Yom’ part. Maybe I need to find the spiritual strength to pull me through next year?

As the evening went by, this boss/mentor/friend of mine sent me over a few videos to watch: one about forgiveness, one about how to change your legacy, one about what Yom Kippur really means, and many others. I diligently watched them all. But I didn’t just watch them, I understood them.

I’m in Manhattan, far away from my boyfriend and family, and somewhat at a crossroad in my life. This Yom Kippur made sit still and think. It made me meditate over where I was a year ago, where I am today, and where I am heading to. This day made me assess the last several years and check if I had hurt anybody that needs forgiveness, or if I need to forgive someone that I haven’t yet.

By this morning, I know this is what you call Teshuva.

So as soon as I woke up, I called my boyfriend and told him I was sorry for anything I have hurt him with. He looked at me with wide open eyes. I said, “What? I am doing Yom Kippur. And I mean it.” He smiled. He forgave and asked for forgiveness himself.

Something fascinating happened at this moment.

I should have called up my parents too. But as a Christian, we don’t ask for forgiveness out loud. So I just said sorry silently within.

My office is still empty. And I didn’t fast. And I am working – which I now know is an absolute no-no for Jews. Well, most of you probably know that but I didn’t. And I still have a lot to do and learn on my journey until I understand the full meaning of Yom Kippur. But I already know that today is different and next year I’ll take one more step towards a meaningful Yom Kippur.

Six years ago I did not think I’d have the desire to understand Judaism; to grow closer to something so unfamiliar, or to have the guts to write about it at all. Don’t think it’s easy – I am balancing between parties = between not turning my back to my roots (and that means my family and my childhood) and not offending you with my lack of familiarity to your roots.

It’s not easy, but it’s uplifting and I know I am not the only Christian who has ever felt this way…

G’mar Hatimah Tovah

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