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Yom Kippur


Growing up in rural Massachusetts, Judaism held a much different context in my life than it does now. Until college, I did Judaism, mimicking the motions of being a "good Jew." I didn't combine milk and meat in my house because my father told me not to. We attended High Holiday services because...well...that's what we did every year. We cooked latkes for my peers on Hanukkah and explained the seder plate on Passover because if we hadn't, Judaism wouldn't have had a voice in my second-grade classroom. Judaism, in my predominantly-Christian town of 2,000, felt isolating.

To me,...

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Growing up the child of a Jew-by-choice, everything about Judaism was a choice for us. For my mother, Judaism was a gift. She felt very proud to count herself among the Jewish people. She felt blessed to have the opportunity to do Jewish things. And she felt great joy in being able to give me Jewish experiences. To this day, she calls Jewish overnight camp “the best investment I ever made.”

In our home, I don’t ever remember hearing the words “have to” when it came to Judaism. I only remember hearing “get to.” We get to light Shabbat candles. We get to go to synagogue. We get to...

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The number of months, with God, is 12 in the Book of God, the day that He created the heavens and the earth… The month postponed is an increase of unbelief whereby the unbelievers go astray; one year they make it profane, and hallow it another…

-Quran 9:36-37

The media were ready for blood during the days leading up to Yom Kippur this year, as the holiday fell on the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid el-Adha. Given the fraught atmosphere between Jews and Arabs that was created during the Gaza war this summer, there was concern that the usual small-scale Yom Kippur...

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As a young girl, I was very compliant. If I was told to do something, I generally did it; if I was told not to do something, I usually didn’t. Of course, there were exceptions – ah, the motorcycle ride – but I think of myself as a rule follower. On occasion, I may take on a leadership role to change the rules, but I generally don’t like to break them.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, to find myself bent over, my head in the ark of an old synagogue in Kolin, Czech Republic. Around me, a tour guide and others were yelling at me in a variety of languages, including German:

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Our Mortality

Yom Kippur begins in the evening, and in preparation for the formal annulment of vows called Kol Nidre, the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and given to congregational leaders who hold them until Kol Nidre and its surrounding prayers have been offered. The result is that we speak this poignant prayer about the frailty of our moral will while looking into an empty cabinet—a cabinet strikingly similar to the one that will hold our bodies when we die. Indeed, the word aron means both "ark" and "casket"—and it pushes us to ponder the shortness of life, and the...

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