To all an easy fast, promise of good year

At sundown tomorrow, we will enter the longest day of our Jewish year.
Yom Kippur is an odd one, a singular one as our holidays and holy days go. Many of those help us remember historic events, while others mark seasonal milestones. But this one, alone, depends on us for existence. It is, indeed, US.
By the time we rise together for the traditional Kol Nidre, we (at least should) have made our personal peace with everyone we may have offended during the past year. We should be fully cleansed of our own personal sins by the miracle of forgiveness through our own participation; we are now ready to stand as a people and pray to God as one for the divine forgiveness of us all.
I always look around my shul at this instant, wondering which of those I see will not be granted another year of life, to rise with us next year. I don’t believe those who must answer the final call are selected for that last journey because they are sinners; their attempts at personal repentance have surely been as good as mine or better, and I don’t discount the possibility that I myself may be among 5779’s missing. But I sense a kind of beyond-our-understanding randomness as I also see in memory those who were standing along with me last year but are no longer present. Those now gone were an amalgam of behaviors; they encompassed all.
Then those heavy words sing out, first in beautiful solo, and then again with all of us contributing our varied voices. If I were not awe-struck at this moment, I would never be. Three times, the Kol Nidre, and as the last sound fades away, I am already missing it. Will I be one of those granted another year in which I can stand and hear its glory once more? Every year, I listen more closely and carefully, and sing with more fervor, hoping this will not be my last time, but putting my heart and soul into it as though it might be…
Let’s be honest: The day drags. (Remember? It is indeed the longest day of the Jewish year!) It is next to impossible to remain totally spiritual with a growling stomach and an increasingly dry throat or tongue. From childhood until I graduated from college, I attended a synagogue that put heavy wooden blocks over all the fountains and sinks in the building, in the event of any cases of congregational deprivation desperation. I never heard of anyone trying to sneak a sip; I never heard of anyone fainting, either. Because any shul that goes to such an extent in honoring this law was also certain — as mine was — to recognize medical needs and those of specific ages and life conditions: No small child, pregnant or nursing woman, or anyone of any age with a condition that ruled against the total fast would have been applauded — but would rather have been remonstrated against — for trying to carry it out. After all, the law is the law, always of fairness and compassion.
Memories from one of those days: I had a college boyfriend whose mother invited me to break the fast at their family home. But I refused her request to leave early — not before I heard that last great shofar blast. My relationship with her son dissolved soon afterward. That same Yom Kippur, exiting later with the crowd, I heard one young man hustle up another: “Hey, bub — holiday’s over. Gimme a cigarette.” There are all kinds of Jews among us…
These days, my shul’s bimah is crowded with past presidents as the Kol Nidre is sung to begin the last long day, and the whole congregation joins in a welcome break-the-fast meal as it ends. A “dayenu” time! I wish all of you such a time, after an easy fast, with the much-hoped-for promise of a good year to come.

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