By Susan Esther Barnes
Blogger Dov Bear posted a recap of five different kinds of Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur Eve) services he has attended in the past, and invited others to write about their Kol Nidre experiences. I wrote about one of my experiences from previous years, since it was not yet Kol Nidre this year.
Then he posted about his most recent Yom Kippur experience, and several of us posted about ours.
I thought I’d add my Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur experiences from this year here as well. Kol Nidre is in this post, and Yom Kippur is in the next one.
5:30 pm Final meal before Kol Nidre: I have French toast and milk for dinner. This is my version of carbo loading for the fast ahead (no food or drink from sunset on Friday night until three stars are in the sky on Saturday evening).
This is the second year Nita is offering High Holiday services. Nita is a project of our synagogue, reaching out to unaffiliated Jews in the county. I have been hearing rave reviews about Nita all year, but have stayed away from their services because I know they’re trying to build their own community and I don’t want to get in the way of that.
When I went online to buy the Nita “Lift Kit,” which includes tickets to the Nita High Holiday services, I was simply intending to make a donation, however in the week prior to Kol Nidre I decide to be selfish this year and check out the Nita Kol Nidre service.
I am wearing all white, the traditional color we wear on Yom Kippur, because it is the color we wear when we are buried. I am also wearing white canvas sneakers and no belt because we don’t wear leather, which is considered to be a luxury, on Yom Kippur. Orthodox men wear a kittel, the Jewish burial garments. Rabbis Noa and Michael also wear them on Yom Kippur.
6:30 pm: I arrive about a half an hour before services. Almost nobody else has arrived yet. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself, and I figure there’s no reason not to greet, which is what I’d normally do if I were at services on my “home turf.” Jane, the Development Director, asks me to help direct people to the sign-in table.
I notice a number of familiar faces, members of the synagogue, who have also chosen to attend this service instead of the “regular” one at the Civic Center. Noa’s parents also attend, and her Mom gives me a hug. I’m flattered that she recognizes me. Most of the people, however, I’ve never seen before. Many of them have kids with them.
Around 7 pm services start, and I feel torn. I came here because I was hoping to engage in a more intimate experience than I would have at the Civic Center, and I want to go in and start to get into the mood being created in there. But there are people still arriving, and I want them to feel welcome when they walk in. Helping the unaffiliated to feel like there is something for them here is important. I continue to greet until the trickle of late arrivals peters out.
I walk in, and there are few available seats left. The only ones that look viable are a group of five or so in the very back, in the middle, with no other chairs around them. I sit in one of them, but I feel isolated from everyone else. I move my chair to the right side, so I’m sitting behind someone I know. Eventually a family comes in and moves the rest of the isolated chairs next to me, and they sit down. I’m glad to feel less like I’m sitting there alone.
Noa gives a fabulous sermon that starts by her talking about the Container Store and moves on to talking about how we contain ourselves, and somehow ties in a story about a man named Yosi who Elijah finds praying in a ruin and why Elijah tells Yosi he shouldn’t pray in a ruin but should pray by the road, even if it means he may be interrupted.
She explains about how we should not pray in places of despair but should pray in the real world with all its messiness. I’m always impressed by how a good rabbi can pull in all these seemingly disparate things and make it seem obvious in hindsight how they all go together. I suppose that’s the kind of thing you learn to do when you start to get an understanding of the one-ness of it all.
I enjoy the rest of the service. I’m surprised how much of it is in Hebrew. I had imagined there might be more English, in an attempt to not intimidate folks who rarely attend services. I don’t end up with nearly as intimate a feeling as I expected; not nearly as intimate a feeling as I felt on Rosh Hashanah morning at the synagogue sanctuary service, where there were more people, but also more people that I know.
I realize that even though the Nita service is a good place to be, it is not my place. My place is at the synagogue, with the community I have joined there. I am grateful to have a place that is so good that even a place as good as Nita cannot transcend it for me.
After the service, I rush to the doors to say goodnight and Shabbat Shalom to people as they leave. Usually after synagogue services, a good number of people stay to chat, but many people leave right away, and I want to get to the doors first. I find myself standing there alone for some time. Everyone else is still inside the room where the services were, talking with each other. I feel great. It means there is a community there, in that room, and Nita is doing what it set out to do.