At last minute I changed my plans for Yom Kippur, I had to be at work late on Friday and decided to daven with the Jewish Study Network, AKA Bay Area Community Kollel, AKA get as many kids to go to yeshiva as possible through sly brainwashing (kiruv) tactics like warm homemade challah and really good cholent. I was wary, until one of the Rabbis told me that it would be a yeshivish davening, my ears perked up and I imagined tables with flimsy white plastic tablecloths filled with random yeshivish direi torah emails from Monsey that you could sponsor for $36 a year.
After learning my horrifying work schedule for the week I agreed to spend Yom Kippur in Palo Alto instead of San Jose as originally planned, I had ulterior motives, I knew the JSN would have good reading material and lots of crazy Baalei Teshuva to watch, but in truth it was the promise of a yeshivish davening that got me there. Although I didn’t like it while I was in yeshiva, after I left and came back, I realized that yeshivish high holiday davening is the only way to go. People rant and rave about chazzanus, but I never heard good chazzanus in any shul I ever went to and preferred the emotion over the wailing old man with a cool hat. (most chazzans don’t wear cool hats anymore)
So I donned my sandals, threw on a dress shirt (I didn’t bring any suits with me here and haven’t tucked a shirt in since I arrived 9 months ago – it’s very freeing) and drove to the beis medrish which is really in a road side office building and suddenly I was fearful. I walked into a room full of novice daveners, how on earth could a davening be yeshivish when you had a bunch of folks who didn’t even know which chest to clop to banish their sins? I hoped I wasn’t conned into davening BT style with explanations every other minute and davening coaches walking around showing people what to do.
Right after a very good Kol Nidre, I have been really getting into old school chazzanus, watching these 70 year old videos online that are full of emotion and I was truly impressed with the Kol Nidre. Then someone announced that there would be a class, in fact every hour or so throughout the entire Yom Kippur there was a class and although I didn’t attend (I really didn’t want to make the rabbis uncomfortable they know what I do– Kiruv rabbis have a love hate relationship with me) I really wanted to.
So the Rosh Kollel gets up and gives this awesome pre-Yom Kippur speech, it was really good, mostly because I related to what he was saying and it’s something I myself have been working on. He spoke about how many people tend to focus their yom kippur energies on repenting for things that involve man and God, but rarely for things that are between man and his fellow man (don’t jump down my throats you crazy feminists) and I myself have been doing a lot of consulting with the Lord on this very subject. I find that almost all of my teshuvah is trying to better accept my fellow humans, rather then trying half assed to change my relationship with God. It was good and to the point.
This year, during vidui I tried something new. I have wondered what on earth the point is of saying vidui if you don’t understand what you’re saying. In fact, I have wondered how people, who couldn’t understand what they are saying could get so emotional, it seemed and still seems very fake to me. So I decided to actually clop al chait’s to English and try to think of one or multiple things I had done that fit in with the particular vidui I was saying. This took a long time of course, but I skipped some of the other parts of the sehmona esrei because I couldn’t wait to get to vidui and focus on the sins I did and what I wanted to change and let me tell you something, I was totally ashamed of myself for some of the things I focused on. After awhile, sins just started coming to me and I’m thinking things like “Oh shit God – I totally shouldn’t have done that” and all of this real repentance is completely new to me.
I got up late for shachris of course, it’s my minhag to sleep through shachris and arrive at the end of laining for yizkor. I said the vidui part of shemona esrei and then for the first , time in my life I got an aliyah on Yom Kippur and it was free, I even got a mi-shebarach, now that’s pretty cool. There was no yizkor appeal, I thought the speech before yizkor was going to be an appeal but it wasn’t.
The pre-yizkor appeal was really good, mostly because the Rabbi started his speech with the classic “someone asked me a question recently” but in this case I happened to be that somebody. I asked the Rabbi why so many people who did absolutely nothing with regards to their Jewishness, showed up to shul for yizkor, like it was the most important thing in the world. The Rabbis answer was very good, but I’ll be darned if I can’t explain it. He said something along the lines of honoring the parents and I responded that it was interesting how many folks entered orthodox Judaism when a parent died and they had to say kaddish and saw the warmth of a community through shiva, but that was an answer from the night before – not the one he gave during shul.
Musaf was awesome, seriously folks, I finally heard good chazzanus and I finally realized why shuls pay good money for a high holiday chazzan, although most of the chazzans I have heard generally sucked, but since they could lain and do other things like give bris milah and check the local mikvah they were hired. My compliments to Avi Stewart who was simply amazing and opened my mind to the passion and emotion that could be had when someone is pouring out his heart at the amud.
Then I went back to the Rabbis house and got engrossed in a Jewish novel, I am not sure I should even admit to having read a frum Jewish novel, but I read it in it’s entirety and it was good, actually it was so bad it was good, like in a pathetic propaganda OMG I can’t believe this passes for literature book – but I knew I could devote a post making fun of it and that will soon be up.
So Yom Kippur was good and then it was over,