The Book of Life

October 9th, 2011 Comments Off on The Book of Life

I don’t talk much about religion here, because my feelings are so ambivalent. But while I’m not sure where I stand in terms of my beliefs in a higher power, I have strong attachments to tradition. I love knowing that what I’m doing has been done countless times before me by my ancestors. My father rejected religion, yet as a child he was bar mitzvahed, and I know he attended Yom Kippur services. My grandparents before him did, as did those on my mother’s side. And I know their parents did as well. We could keep going back, but what’s the point?

The closest I come, though, to a spiritual connection is on Yom Kippur, one of the high holidays. I’ve been fasting on Yom Kippur for about the past 17 years. I started in grad school. I’m not strict—I allow myself to drink—but I don’t eat, watch TV, get on my computer, and the like. And we go to synagogue. All of us.

Kol Nidre is my second favorite service of the year. My synagogue has begun a tradition of, just before sunset, before the start of Yom Kippur, of having Kol Nidre played on a viola (once sunset starts, playing an instrument is not permitted). The melody is so hauntingly beautiful. (This is the most famous version, Neil Diamond’s version in The Jazz Singer)

Kol Nidre is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Kol Nidre means “all vows” and it’s a dissolution of all vows made between man and God. It begins the 25-hour fast of Yom Kippur.

But my favorite service is Ne’ilah, which is the closing of Yom Kippur. It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, God writes the names in the Book of Life and on Yom Kippur, God seals the book. Ne’ilah is the closing of the gates on the Days of Awe, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we’re supposed to make amends to the people we’ve done wrong. Ne’ilah is when we make our final confessions, when we’re invited, individually, to approach the ark (the place where the Torah is kept) to make a personal prayer, when we sing Avinu Malkenu, a song that sends chills up my spine, when we make Havdalah (the separation of the holiday/Shabbat and the next day). For our Havdalah, the kids, who had been listening to stories in another room, are given glow sticks and the lights in the sanctuary are dimmed as the kids walk through up to the front. And when Havdalah is complete, a final shofar blast is sounded, one long blast, done by everyone with a shofar in the room, signaling, “This is it. The book is sealed. The gates to heaven are closed.” I leave Yom Kippur feeling revived, rather than hungry.

Our synagogue has a tradition, every Shabbat, which Yom Kippur fell on this year, of reciting the names of all those Americans who died that week in Afghanistan and Iran. The list always seems too long, although of course, one name would be too long, and I’m in shock every time I hear it how many men and women are still dying overseas.

I’m not one to make note of anniversaries. Not sure why, but I tend to let them slide. But I feel compelled to mention that the 10-year anniversary of this blog just passed. I had actually forgotten about it, until I was listening to the names, ages, and hometowns of the soldiers killed, and it reminded me that when I first started this blog, the cloud of 9/11 hovered over it, and I was concerned with my friend who had Anthrax released in his office, consumed by the NY Times reports of the people who died in the bombings, all while trying to plan my own wedding and start the next segment of my own life.

This blog has seen me through a lot. Our wedding. Our move from Seattle to the Boston area and the purchase of our house. HBS. More HBS. And yet more HBS.

This blog has seen me through a child. Another child. And all the other writing, vacation, family, crises, life events that have occurred in the past decade.

Ten years ago, Adam and I attended Yom Kippur services at the Hillel at the University of Washington. We spent the day attending services, fasting, reading, and generally feeling introspective. Just the two of us.

Yesterday, Adam, Doodles, Pie, and I attended Yom Kippur services at our synagogue. We attended services, the grown-ups fasted, and for the first time, all of us read (Pie can really read now!) and some of us felt, occasionally introspective.

If there was poetic justice in the world, this would be a good time to ends this blog. It’s been a decade. Everything has changed. Yet nothing has changed. The gates are closed. The book is sealed.

But poetic justice was never my style. So I’ll stick around. For ten more years? Who knows. But at least for the foreseeable future.

G’mar chatima tova. May you be sealed for a good life.

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