To Pendulum This Chag

I am tired of feeling stuck. I go through the same High Holy Day routine each year, but it lacks the spiritual connection I desire. I dip an apple slice in honey once during Rosh Hashanah (I do not actually enjoy the flavor combination). I sing quietly the two words Kol Nidre anytime someone mentions it. And I fast, meaninglessly.

I am at a stage in my life when I am forming my own traditions, ideas, and Jewish practices. Like a pendulum, I swing freely, experiencing differing ideas of Jewish expression before establishing a unique rhythm. Here is an example: keeping Shabbat. After graduating college, I experimented with being fully shomer Shabbat: I did not use electricity, drive, or even carry my phone, but I felt burdened, not uplifted. With my next version, I pendulum-ed and did nothing to separate Shabbat from any other time, but I lost my connection to Judaism.

Today, I have created a form of Shabbat that I am comfortable with, that connects me to my religion. I do not work on Shabbat unless it directly adds to the experience and spirit of Shabbat. I will drive to a synagogue for a Tot Shabbat (as the local PJ Library professional, I often attend events like this) and will even ask people to sign-in, if appropriate. But I will wait until after Shabbat ends to send a follow-up email.

Having wrestled with my relationships to Shabbat, kashrut, and most recently Passover, this year I am tackling the High Holy Days. I find them challenging, especially Yom Kippur. I grew up associating the chag (holiday) with the core ideas of repentance and atonement. This might not be the full halachic (according to Jewish law) truth of Yom Kippur, but it is how I have internalized it. During the chag, I rarely feel like repenting. Instead, I feel proud – not the positive feelings of pride in being Jewish or proud of my community, but a narcissistic pride that I can easily fast for 28 hours. This is not how I want to feel during my Yom Kippur, and it is the reason I need to try something new.

I have decided to pendulum this chag. For starters, I will eat. I cannot predict how eating on a fast day will feel. Sometimes I only understand my emotions by analyzing my body’s reactions. If my stomach starts turning while I snack, I might interpret that eating on Yom Kippur feels uncomfortable. I will also avoid the traditional synagogue and am opting instead for a hike. My Yom Kippur this year will involve being outside, listening to a podcast, and eating grapefruit. For me, it is the ideal combination to unlock my happy place.

This year is an experiment. Maybe I am pendulum-ing too far, or maybe I am not going far enough. I am also trying something different for Rosh Hashanah, but that is a different story. I am cautiously excited to try something new. I do not know if this process will completely shift my future Yom Kippur experiences, but it is a process I need to undergo, and I am ready to challenge myself.

Let me know if you are doing something different – if you too are testing the outer limits or have already settled on your equilibrium.

I wish you all a happy, healthy 5778 and a meaningful chag, no matter how you choose to observe.

About the Author
Nathan Brodsky runs PJ Library at Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He is passionate about building Jewish communities and supporting others in their Jewish journeys. He is on the Board and Leadership Team for Limmud Atlanta + Southeast and is on Moishe House Virginia Highland’s committee. Nathan was recognized as the youngest member of Atlanta Jewish Times’ 40 Under 40. Nathan’s favorite foods are artichokes, limes, grapefruits, and chicken salad.
Related Topics
Related Posts