A Reflection on Yom Kippur

Angel Orensanz Synagogue, Lower East Side

Dearest Friends,

For nearly two months now, I’ve completely neglected my Year to Live project.  Dead silence on my part.  I got so out of the habit of writing this blog that I had to root through piles of paper to even find the password to log in.

I feel like I owe you an explanation. . .  I was just out there in the world, living ferociously.

In that time  I indulged my wanderlust and set off for the mountains and any body of water I could find.  I hiked in an old growth forest in Oregon with one of my closest friends, her daughter and my littlest guy.  We rafted down a river in the high desert and slipped our bodies into soothing natural hot springs.    I skipped rocks on a glass-surfaced lake in Maine with my husband, ate wild blueberries on a trail in the White Mountains, was chased by a flock of migrating shorebirds on a protected island off Massachusetts, and strained to see a whale (a whale!) off the coast of New Jersey.

I think the complete surrender into what I value most in life was exactly what I needed after thinking about mortality so deeply month after month.

But here’s the thing:  there came a time when I longed to be grounded once again in the reality of my everyday life.  The familiar messiness. These very piles of paper.  My work.  The cacophony of street noises on my New York block.  The personalities that drive me to distraction.

I came to remember that there truly is a season for everything.  That it was time to bid farewell to a memorable summer and to greet whatever life has in store for me this fall.

Which brings me to Yom Kippur.  Today is the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar.  For twenty years, I’ve been observing this holiday in solidarity with my husband.  What I didn’t recognize until someone in my Year to Live class pointed it out, is that one interpretation of the day is that it is a “rehearsal for death.”  My classmate  Diane said – crediting Rabbi Shefa Gold also:

Yom Kippur is a day when Jews fast from food and drink, from sex, from anointing themselves, from washing, and wearing leather – all as a way to detach ourselves from the physical body and to have the experience of the nakedness of our existence.  Many Jews wear a “kittel” a full length, white garment which is the dress (shroud) that many Jews are buried in.

During the entire period, we act as if this day were our last, “our only day to face the Truth, forgive ourselves and each other, remember who we are and why we were born.  Yom Kippur reminds us that we are all dying.  There is no time for regret, worry, fear, no time to put off facing the truth, or to delay thanking our beloveds.”  Each moment takes on an urgency, and like each encounter with death we are urged into the fullness of living.

It is not morbid however because it is predicated on the hope of the New Year and the opportunity to live life to its fullest.  It is a day of death so that there can be a new life.

Last night, as a single violin resonated Kol Nidre throughout our historic synagogue, candles flickering from every hanging chandelier and – improbably – a striking long-haired cat wandering around the altar, I gave thanks to the universe for the life I’ve been so lucky to lead and vowed to try not to take it for granted.  I silently rededicated myself to bringing awareness to my deeds and to living with compassion for others and for myself.

An important part of this past year has been writing to all of you, and I do hope you’ll continue to join me in this journey.  Echoing the words of my classmate, I wish you all a good and sweet year and a year of insight,  loving-kindness and peace.

All my very best,


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

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9 responses to “A Reflection on Yom Kippur”

  1. Sven says:

    Welcome back to cyber world, Barb. Sounds like you had some tasty dips in the springs of life. Now you can go back to dying… 😉

  2. Barbara says:

    It feels so good to be back. Thanks for the welcome, Sven!

  3. Welcome back! Look forward to reading your blog again.

  4. laura says:

    I have missed the blog.. and you. And suddenly this morning awaking and reading, being reminded of the inner life of Yom Kippur, I am nourished. I have been writing a book about a boy who was the victim of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. He lost his both arms, family, friends, village, sight in one eye, and innocence. In three hours everything changed. Just as when I returned from working in Haiti in June I kept thinking about how the enormity of what occured took place in 38 seconds. Your blog somehow moved me into knowing/feeling another aspect of why these two parts of my life, so poignant and difficult, allure and engage me with a certain joy in being alive. That is the quality of Sheku. He is in touch with death and life every moment. And the totality of what is life in Haiti is also in living. love, laura

  5. Barbara says:

    It’s so wonderful to hear from all of you. Laura – I recommend that you rush over to Union Square to see A City of Sukkah’s http://www.sukkahcity.com/ before it’s taken down tonight. It will be sure to remind you of the beauty of this season and all that is good. I love your deep insights and would love to reconnect soon.

  6. laura says:

    I went to see the Sukkoh’s (by accident )yesterday. what a remarkable vision and the people who were circulating were just as exceptional. elderly jews, young fathers and their sons wearing yamulkas and hip hop kids with high top sneakers. Homeless people staring into the make shift dream like little houses and the appearance of memories from growing up on 47th street and 13th avenue in Boro Park having Succoh in a small hut with a roof made of bamboo and branches with leaves.. where I had my first glass of wine. I got under the table and barked like a dog and my brother responded with howls. It was our madcap reaction to all the secret mysteries and dysfunction of our post holocaust neighbors.

  7. Barbara says:

    What memories! I’m trying to get one of my friends with a roof to construct a sukkah (or to bid on one of the 12 on display 😉 ! If it happens, you’ll be the first to come share a glass of wine!

  8. OMG, you gave me a furious heart attack with your absence!

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