Here’s a secret.
Even as a kid, I enjoyed sitting in synagogue on the high holidays.
Even when friends would coax me to join them outside during the ‘boring parts’. (I didn’t really find them boring.)
Even when my mom was reading any and all books from the stuffed shelves near the back row.
Even as the chagim were an extremely complicated time of year for me; my family lived far from the shul, so for many years we stayed at other families until we moved closer.
Even as my childhood was contaminated, year-round, by a potent cocktail of religion and shame.
But this post is a celebratory concoction. A celebration of religious redemption, a liberation, the freedom to be whoever we want in communal Jewish life.
We start with the most freeing thing of all: not feeling obligated. Not feeling obligated to go to shul at all.
Suddenly, we’re presented with a choice, the option to choose to attend the most communal modern day Jewish expression: beit knesset on Yom Kippur.
Now that we’ve chosen – here we are, in this room, this liberated sanctuary. Everyone’s mouthing, chanting, singing the same things so there’s an anonymity to it, the chance to be one voice of many, to get lost in the group, the greater good. Not only that, but also we’ve all arrived here from different homes, from all kinds of hometowns, and some of us from different motherlands – and others grew up in households with parents and grandparents from different motherlands.
And we all know what to do.
And we all feel whatever we feel – some joy, some fear, some sorrow, the list goes on, but we’re here to feel. If we’re liberated, the feeling is free to pour forth.
And the words are here to serve us – the reliable, ever-present black biblical font on creamy paper, words repeated year after year on worn pages, words that strike differently every time I see them.
And perhaps the words feel so friendly and familiar, they’re an embrace; they’re comforting.
Perhaps they are unrelatable, and sensing that fact, these unrelatable words take us by the hand to an in-between space – past group participation, toward wandering attention. Floating through our own homemade words for wonder, repentance, hope.
Or perhaps we completely detach from any thoughts at all, and submit to these unrelatable words – they’re serving as just dutiful words on a page, textual placeholders, a mantra to meditate on, to let the mind detach from the mouth and find its own way through prayer.
And we may find that this submission to printed words, to universal song, it’s a form of giving in to the greater moment we’re all creating here, rallying around a historical context, a modern setting, universal need to be heard, by anyone, including ourselves…
It’s quite, quite freeing…
…if we choose it.