It was a rainy Yom Kippur day when I pulled up into the parking lot of a reform temple in the Atlanta area. This was a temple where my husband and I got married. Ten years later, we renewed our vows here in front of family and friends. A couple of years after that, my husband’s parents renewed their vows here. All that’s to say, this place was special, and we have a connection to it. We are also not members.
To be more specific, I’m not a member of any synagogue in town. I do occasionally visit my local Chabad house, where I always feel welcomed. However, on this Yom Kippur, I wanted to go to this temple where my family has a connection. It’s the holiest day of the Jewish year, I thought to myself as I entered the half-empty parking area. I’m sure they won’t send me away.
The police officer sized me up and down as I approached the entrance. Security, understandable, no problem. I generally don’t look too menacing and don’t pose much of a threat. I walked up to the nice middle-aged woman who was sitting out front behind a folding table. She looked at me above her mask. “Do you have a ticket?” she asked. I replied that I do not.
“So how does this work?” I asked, probably looking somewhat lost.
“How does what work?” she was perplexed.
“I don’t have a ticket. I’m not a member. I was hoping to come for service today,” I began explaining. “I got married here years ago.”
“You have to have a ticket,” she replied firmly, her brows furrowing above the said N-95.
“Can I purchase a ticket on the spot?” I inquired, quickly losing hope, but still determined.
“Yes,” her voice was now almost apologetic. “It’s $245. That buys you a ticket for access to services during the High Holidays.”
“I see,” I said, because I didn’t know how to respond. “But Rosh Hashanah is over. And Yom Kippur is today. So I’d pay $245 for just coming in today..?”
Maybe she smiled behind her mask. Maybe she didn’t. I’m not sure. I took one last shot.
“So, there’s no open-to-the-public service today?”
“No, there’s not.”
I thanked her and began what can only be described as the walk of shame back to my car.
Yom Kippur is the holiest of days. Jews all around the world gather in temples to pray and to atone. Some of those Jews belong to synagogues, have memberships that allow them to drop in on whatever services they want. Others – many others – do not. Yet, it seems that on this holiest of days, all Jews might be welcomed at all temples. It would seem that the doors of all shuls should be open during the High Holidays to embrace Jews of all types who want to feel a moment of closeness to the Almighty. On this day, of all days.
I know some may argue that everyone else must pay for the privilege of membership – why should I get to come for free? That argument is valid, I agree, every other day of the week, every Shabbat, sure. But on Yom Kippur? On Yom Kippur?
I hate to make this comparison, but would a church turn away a person who wanted to come in on Christmas Eve? I don’t believe it would. I have traveled extensively throughout Europe and have been inside many churches, big and small. Most of them are open to the public. You can sit in a pew. You can use the bathroom. You can marvel at the magnificent architecture, while you drink from your water bottle. That house of G_d is open to all, including Jews. Why aren’t ours? Especially, on High Holidays.
Of course, I realize that there are plenty of free Yom Kippur services around town. Yes, I know. But my soul was pulling me in the direction of this one particular temple. Unfortunately, on that day, it was not to be.
I ended up attending a lovely service at my local Chabad house on Yom Kippur. The rabbi was wonderful and inspiring. The humongous crowd was beautiful, excited, dressed up. The parking lot was overflowing. The police presence was strong. I sat on a folding chair, breathing in and out, thankful for being welcomed, grateful for being surrounded by people, who, like me, wanted a place to come to on this day. A place where we won’t be turned away. The rain was tapping on windows, as I remembered a line from the “Munich” movie – “You’re a Jew. I’m a Jew. I’m sure it says somewhere that we’re supposed to break bread together.” That line was in my head all day. We’re all Jews. I’m sure it says somewhere that we don’t turn each other away, especially on holidays, especially during a pandemic, especially in the rain.