Yom Kippur in Our Interfaith Family

 

I cannot quite let go of Yom Kippur yet. As happens in many years, my introspection on this Day of Awe was deep enough to have changed me, at least for now. I want to keep the sense of the new year, the desire to improve, as long as possible. I want to remember the benefits of unplugging, stepping back, tunneling inside my own head. And while many would (mis)characterize the observance of our interfaith families as somehow “light” on the invisible scale used to weigh Jewish practice, this Holy Day was utterly fulfilling for me.

First of all, I was pleased that my entire family (my Christian husband, both my interfaith teens) decided to fast together this year. For my thirteen-year-old son, this was his first time, and it served as reassurance to this Jewish mother that he is, indeed, coming of age, and that he, does, indeed, take pride in his Jewish identity, no matter what kind of ceremony or Bar Mitzvah we might end up creating to mark this transition.

In some years, I have found fasting alone to be difficult, especially if I did not have the luxury (living abroad in cities without synagogues, or as a mother of young children) of day-long services. This year, my fast was easier due to the solidarity provided by a whole family chorus of rumbling tummies, and to the accountability provided by many sets of sympathetic eyes when passing through the kitchen.

We met up with our interfaith families community for a final hour of prayer and repentance, led by our teen group, and to break the fast together. The service started with a moment of creative chaos. Luckily, being an interfaith “project,” we posess well-oiled flexibility. In this case, the staff person from the Unitarian church did not show up to let us in the doors. So, seeing as it was a gorgeous fall day, we all unloaded the folding soccer-mom chairs from our minivans and set up on the lovely deck under the trees, prepared to hold an outdoor Yom Kippur. Quite a few community members independently came up with some version of this wry metaphor: we may be marginalized as interfaith families, locked out, but we will persist in celebrating Yom Kippur anyway. It was a totally unscripted and unanticipated moment of interfaith community bonding.

In the end, we got into the sanctuary at the last moment (setting off an alarm, which added to the chaos). After a moment of centering, the service finally began. At the apex, a Jewish dad from our community, Bob, chanted the Kol Nidre, one of the central, haunting prayers of Yom Kippur. The gorgeous, resonant, minor melody floated over and through us three times, each time louder, each time with deeper emotion. In those moments, there was nothing “light” about our observance of this day. No professional cantor could have sung more soulfully.

The closing moment of the service was provided by my young friend Cheney. Cheney has autism, and he also has a mystical affinity for Judaism. He was given a shofar at his Bar Mitzvah (at which, yes, he did chant his Torah portion).  So at Yom Kippur, my sixteen-year-old daughter, who has been friends with Cheney since she was born, had the honor of calling out the final Tekiah Gedolah to mark the end of the Yom Kippur fast. And Cheney, looking radiant and positively rabbinical with a full beard on his teenage chin, stood in front of his congregation and blew a perfect, long note on his shofar. I plan to hang onto the echo of that note for as long as possible. I am thinking it will carry me all the way to next year.

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4 Comments on “Yom Kippur in Our Interfaith Family”

  1. Tamara Miller Says:

    So enjoyed reading about your holiday experiences.
    May this year be sweeter than the last.

    Tamara

  2. Mary Beth Says:

    Sue
    What a great description of our community’s Yom Kippur service, which I really enjoyed, as did my Jewish husband. The songs and the prayers become more familiar to me as we attend IFFP Yom Kippur services year after year, and I expect that familiarity to increase now that we have IFFP’s Rosh Hashanah service. We’re learning and observing as a family in a community where we are all full members on equal footing. We are so lucky.

  3. Susan Ryder Says:

    Sue,

    Your words always strike a cord somewhere in my heart and my memories. Your rendering of Yom Kippur and Cheney, with his deep clarity where we often are blured, pouring his soul into the call of the shofar brought tears to my eyes. I am so grateful to be a part of a community that treasures the gifts and longings of all of it’s members and to you for always, so beautifully expressing that.

  4. Lisa Henderson Says:

    Beautiful, Sue. Thank you.


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