What with Yom Kippur falling on its earliest possible date on the Gregorian calendar, we had a looooong day before the “fastivities” were finally over yesterday at 8:36 pm EDT. (Since our services begin at the same time every year on the eve of the holiday, the extra sunlight simply meant a longer period of food and water denial.)
As has become our tradition, we took a light supper before the fast began: Big meal equals big hunger upon awakening in the morning. A salad, some light protein - none of that tasty braised brisket, thank you! - and plenty of liquids, and we were good to go.
Romaine salad with dill, Greek basil, pine nuts, and dried cherries... it’s (mostly) what’s for dinner.
We arrived about fifteen minutes before the doors opened for afternoon services, queueing up with the regular group of early birds to ensure our snagging decent seats. That was more an issue for the Missus and our friends, because I was not going to be doing a whole lot of sitting. I was going to be leading the Kol Nidre service.
When it comes to religious pomp and circumstance, it’s hard to beat the Roman Catholic Church. Only a week ago, we had attended the wedding of a daughter of some Friends of Long Standing, a wedding at which the Archbishop of Atlanta was the officiant. But now it was our turn for pomp and circumstance, and Kol Nidre, the ceremonial renunciation of vows that kicks off the Day of Atonement, is about as pomply and circumstantial as we Red Sea Pedestrians get. It’s really a reenactment of a Bet Din - an old-time rabbinical tribunal - with the intent of nullifying any sin resulting from unfulfilled vows between an individual and God. Back in the day, such vows often consisted of things like forced conversions. Inquisition much?
About fifteen minutes before the service began, we gathered in the executive offices for a final sip of water and a ceremonial shot of schnapps. For me, a finger of Johnnie Walker Blue would fortify me for the task - and the lengthy fast - ahead. And then the service began with a procession of the congregation’s leaders, past and present, each carrying one of the sacred Torah scrolls in its snowy white mantle, as I announced that, by authority of the courts on high and below, and with the permission of the Almighty and that of the congregation, we were allowed to pray with those who have transgressed. (Given that we are human, that covers pretty much everybody in the congregation.)
Standing in front of the congregation on the one night a year that we are guaranteed to have a packed house, and surrounded by the Torah-bearing elite, I chanted the ancient Aramaic formula... once, twice, thrice, concluding with “And thus spoke the Lord: I have forgiven according to your word.”
The evening was far from over. There would be our congregational president’s speech, the evening service, a sermon, concluding prayers. And the next day, there would be a full day’s worth of services... enough to keep my mind far away from the subject of eating and drinking. (And if that did not suffice, there would always be the traditional Yom Kippur afternoon nap.) But even from the outset, I felt as I always do on this holiest of days. I felt renewed, refreshed, and ready to take on the new year.
May it be a good one for all of us.