Saturday, October 29, 2016

Yamim Noraim – the days of awe

I know, I know, I've been publishing non-stop. But I have like four trips ahead before the year ends, so I really need to finish all my pending posts before I start having too much stuff to write about! Be warned, though, this is one of those posts with lots and lots of text and not enough pretty pictures!

Anyhow. So, this year, like the last two, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah at home. And, for the second time, we had guests! I like how it's becoming a tradition of ours, though I always think what a shame it is my mom's not around anymore to see this revival of her ancestor's traditions...

Rosh Hashanah

The period between the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah (by the way, happy super belated 5777!), and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is called the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim). Hence the name of this post.

Rosh Hashanah was, frankly, super nice! There was a talk at a historic synagogue in the centre of the city, and we went there out of curiosity. The lecture was a bit boring, I'm afraid, but that's beside the point, because we got our hands on a typical bread for Rosh Hashanah – round challah! Woohoo! With that, we headed back home to prepare everything for dinner: we had the challah (round, to remind us of the cycle of things), nice Chilean red wine, rye bread, apples and agave syrup (to wish for a sweet year), cholent (yeah, I know, not famous for being a special meal, but ours is pretty good!), a beet and pomegranate salad (more sweetness, with just a hint of tartness and bitterness to make the sweet more noticeable), and a chocolate and chia mousse with meringues and raspberries...

Also, this year we did some explaining of what Rosh Hashanah meant (since everybody but me at the table identified as non-Jewish), and I even went as far as incorporating more rituals, such as lighting candles, saying some brakhot (blessings) over the candles, the bread and the wine, all men wore yarmulkes... You know, the works! Being able to pull that off and be surrounded by good, loving friends made for a very special celebration. I am a really really lucky person.

Yom Kippur

Obviously, being a staunch atheist, all my Jewish celebrations draw on humanistic interpretations of meaning. By Yom Kippur, your fate is supposed to be sealed or inscribed in the book of life, for the coming year. And you are supposed to be able to tone down the harshness of the judgement through charity (tzedaka), repentance (teshuva) and prayer (tefilla). Of course, being pretty much out of touch with the local Jewish community, and with no religious intention at all, I was not going to find myself at a temple praying and repenting, right?

Instead, the humanistic approach is to go to the roots of the words themselves, and so tzedaka becomes embodying the ideals of the Jewish people (and, therefore, putting your ethics into action), teshuva becomes to return (to your ideals and values, to recommit), and tefilla becomes self-reflection. And so I spent Yom Kippur reflecting on behaviours I had been having that led me away from my ideals and on thinking on how to remain faithful to who I wanted to be myself. I also spent plenty of time thinking on the meaning of teshuva and tefilla to "tone down the harshness of the judgement", which from a non-theistic point of view – and from an Aristotelian point of view too, it seems, as the Greeks also influenced Jewish thought – by also re-committing to my values and actively exercising what kind of mentsh I want to be, I can better face the harshness life will most definitely throw at me at some point. Or, using a pop-culture reference, I'll be better able to make lemonade with the lemons given to me. Anyhow, last year was a clear example of how I let life's nasty surprises get the better of me, so this was the perfect moment to relect and commit. Oh, and on top of that, I also fasted. Fasting does put you in a different mood and sets the day as a special time fit for meditating, eh?

By the end of Yom Kippur I felt more confident, freer, and calmer. Who says atheists can't benefit from some rituals now and then? And I was also feeling very hungry! So I poured myself some good wine, served myself some cholent (new one, not from Rosh Hashanah! LOL), and proceeded to break fast with a renewed commitment and sense of direction. 

Now, like I said, I simply don't go to temple. I might some day, if I find a humanist Jewish community or if I find someone who's willing to take me into a religious one. And, after all, not ever having set foot in a synagogue during services makes me rather similar to 60% of secular Israelis, who according to the latest surveys never go to a synagogue. But still, I need a photo, there's too much text here. So here's one from a friend who does go to temple, with his family. And, to be honest, all those candles do look pretty. So maybe yeah, one day I might attend a Yom Kippur service...

original by @haalpert on Instagram,
edited by @zangtai_taizo

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