Tonight marks the start of Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. It follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which started last week. These are the High Holy days, the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. Our family is Jewish, though I never converted. That has caused all kinds of issues over the years, some that I’ve come to terms with and others that still ruffle my feathers. The fact that our daughter recently made a formal conversion to Orthodox Judaism is directly related to the fact that I chose not to convert, 26 years ago. When I chose to marry Smart Guy, I also agreed to take the 16 week conversion course, that was intended to lead to my conversion. I studied Hebrew, I studied Jewish laws, and the basics of the faith. I studied everything that might lead to becoming Jewish, but chose in the end not to convert. It was a difficult decision that did not sit well with my then soon to be in-laws, and has impacted my life in many ways since.
That decision is long in the past, and I have been a Jewish mother raising Jewish children for twenty-two years. I’ve done a good job, but it hasn’t always been easy. There were many times when I felt lost trying to figure out the right way to give my kids a spiritual and religious education and life that I did not have myself. There were times when I reconsidered and wondered if I might not convert after all. Judaism is a beautiful faith that I feel very close to and would consider embracing fully. That said, I have not converted and that means that my children are not technically Jewish, as Judaism is passed through the mother. My boys both identify themselves as Jews and do not struggle with these issues. However, to immigrate to Israel as our daughter would like to do, or to be seen as fully Jewish within the extended Jewish community (Conservative and Orthodox, not just Reform), they too would need to convert. It is a deeply personal choice and having not done it myself, I fully understood my daughter’s desire to do so. I may not have liked the steps along the way, but deeply respect her right to choose and her convictions. While I have struggled with her decision and the impact on our relationship, we’ve both come a long way in the past two years. I’ve come a long way in my own Jewish journey.
And so it is Yom Kippur and Smart Guy is at services right now, as are so many other Jews. I have backed off of this holiday, officially. I joke that I do enough atoning on a daily basis that I don’t need to go do it formally. However, it is not that simple. I am looking for some middle ground at this point in my life, in the issue of faith and my place in it. Don’t send me any comments about inviting Christ into my heart, that’s not the path I’m on for sure. I honor and respect those who are, but it is a path I left long ago. While I am not fully Jewish either, I know my place in the Jewish faith regardless of how others label me. So while I do not attend Yom Kippur services (I do attend Rosh Hashanah) I see the value in looking within and offering atonement for the things I sincerely regret. So, despite my post of yesterday, I am offering atonement for the things I feel regret for, or wish to change:
I am sorry for those I may have hurt in this past year, knowingly or unconsciously. I am sorry for the times I spoke without thinking and said things that caused pain, or insult. I could say that I didn’t mean it, but in moments of anger I know I have. In other moments I have perhaps hurt when I didn’t intend to. I offer atonement.
To my daughter, I am sorry that my choices so early in my life led to such difficulties for you. I cannot say that I would change those choices, as we each choose our own paths, and learn from that. However, I’ve often wondered if I would do it differently, had I known the hurt and struggle it would one day cause one of the lights of my life. I know you will grow from your own journey, and that you are a strong and determined woman, with deep convictions. I simply offer atonement for the role I played in your struggle, though I also smile in knowing how you have grown.
I am sorry for the times that I have not been honest: with myself, with others, in my heart or my thoughts. I want to do better with this. I believe in honesty and I offer atonement for the times I did not remember that.
I am sorry for the times I have judged others harshly, including myself. I struggle with this, but offer atonement as I work to improve this way of thinking.
I’m sorry for my dining room table. It’s getting better… but. I offer atonement for clutter.
I am sorry for not being close to my brother. There is little hope of changing that, but it is with me each and every day.
I am sorry for the distance between my sister and I. We do not make enough effort to be there for each other, and I hope to continue working toward changing that. I offer atonement for the many times I have let frustration and distance sit between us.
I am sorry for things that I’ve held onto, that have long passed. I hope to let them go over this next year and truly make peace with them. I offer atonement for the ways in which my holding on has held me back.
I am sorry that a dear friend and I have let distance sit. I will change this, in whatever way I am responsible for. I offer atonement and hope for healing.
I am sorry that I feel alienation with my mother’s family. Not all of them, but too many. I accept that I can’t change how others feel, but I offer atonement for the role I’ve played in any estrangement.
I am sorry for the times I should have just said I’m sorry, and didn’t. Letting go of the need to be right, that may take a while.
I am so very sorry for all the times I didn’t really listen to my mother and what she wanted. I am sorry for the times I belittled her, or judged her because of her disease. I regret the impatience and shortness I showed. I love her, and miss her and I offer atonement for the times I forgot that…
I am sorry for the times I have fallen short with my children. I will continue to work on personal change, and know that they love me and see that. All the same, for the times that my inadequacies got in the way, I offer atonement.
This is not a glib post. Nor is it me falling back on the many things I just addressed in For The Record (the post prior to this). I am not saying that I am not a good friend/mentor/ volunteer/mother/sister/cousin/aunt/niece… I am doing my best, most of the time. But I know that right now, for Yom Kippur, there is more that I can do. I hope to remember that more often in the year ahead and work on the things I’ve mentioned here, while remembering to forgive myself as well. Overall, I’m a good egg doing my best.
What do you regret from the last year? Are there things you wish you could change? Could you? Do you believe in atonement? Think about that.
Other posts about this: Ode to Girl Interrupted or My Jewish Identity Crisis, and here is a very cool Shofar blowing, at Sunrise in Israel. Truly stirring to know my girl is there during this amazing time.
When we had RH dinner with our eldest son, he asked us for forgiveness for the year. I hadn’t heard it put that way before. I’m inspired by your post. Lots of friends and family I should try to see and do more for.
I think we all have things we wish we’d done differently, right? It’s a good time of year to reflect on those, and even if we can’t change them, give some thought to what we might change, or apologize for. There are many elements of Judaism that do in fact speak to me. Thanks for your comment Lisa.
Inspiring and well written. It’s so important to think about what one would do differently, accept responsibility, and offer sincere apologies…without trying to defend or justify. It can be so hard to do, but rewarding for both parties. I try to do this, but frankly, only do it best with my kids….other friends and family I have to work on. Thanks.
It is a huge challenge for me as well! As much as I think it or write about it, actually saying the words can be so difficult. I want to work on this…. aspiration. 🙂 Thanks for supporting the blog and for the thoughtful feedback.
Your struggle is an interesting one and I appreciate you sharing it. Frankly, I no longer believe in any of it, but that does not mean I don’t respect and appreciate those that do. Your daughter’s path is, and will continue to be, a hard one. The god she worships is a legalist who demands great attention to small details. Fine for some, but brutal for others. She is seeking something and I hope she find it. As for you, don’t feel you have to embrace the unseen to be complete. One day it may all be explained, or maybe not. However, none of us are of sufficient intelligence to grasp with finality the unseen. Those that do so often become intolerant of others and that, I know, is wrong. All joy in your search. HF
So very true HF! I do not seek anything from the unseen… I have struggled with my perceptions of faith, but have not struggled with my lack of belief in a traditional God. I feel that life itself is enough to grasp and figure out and that is my journey… and part of the struggle I mentioned, in raising kids within a faith that I have not had myself, for a very long time. I do see “atonement” as something worth examining and working on. That, for me, is the focus of Yom Kippur. As always, I love exchanging views with you.
I really enjoyed this post. My father’s mother was Irish Catholic and his father was a Russian Jew. Even though Judaism is passed down through the mother’s line I think my father identified heavily with his father’s side. My mother converted to Mormonism when she was in her 30’s. I’ve been Mormon my whole life. (I figure, with that background I’m covered! haha!)
I respect everyone’s spiritual journey and recognize that there is truth available to each of us. I love the idea of atoning for our failings. I remember hearing that the word “atone” actually means, At One. Do you know if that’s the origin? Does that mean at one with God? Or, at one with yourself? Either way, the idea behind it is quite beautiful and profound.
I’ve heard that too, but would need to ask my daughter, since she has all of those answers! I do not attend services for Yom Kippur because I believe in a private atonement, a private inner assessment… that I then share in a blog! 😉 I don’t need to go and repent in a religious setting is what I mean. Like you, I have many of the bases covered too… raised Christian Scientist for many years, then attended Catholic, Protestant and Presbyterian for that many more years and now have been living a “Jewish life” for 25… Someone’s gotta take me in, at the end. ;-p Thanks for checking out my post!
I’m like you. I don’t feel that I actually need to go into a building to have a relationship with God. The beauty of that relationship is that you take it with you where ever you go.
: ) I enjoyed our little correspondence today!!
Dawn: I loved this post. I also love Yom Kippur. It was my favorite holy observance when I lived in Israel because it brings everyone to a level playing field (great and small, rich and poor, high and low). (It’s what Easter used to be about before it got kidnapped by a bunny and Cadbury eggs.) I like your post because I personally believe that we are all on a journey trying to make our way home and clear the “soot” from our eyes to see God clearly. It’s that elephant and the six blind man post I did a couple weeks ago. None of us has the right to get cocky about who we think God is and how we are supposed to follow him because we could all be wrong about a lot of things (like thinking the Earth is flat when it really was round all along). The trick is to always to keep searching and never settle. If there really is a God (of which I am totally convinced there is), surely our little brains and our limited life-span could not possibly figure out the truth of it all with such limitations. You, your daughter, me–we’re all on a journey to find the truth that gives us substance to live by. Atonment (humility) is the first step to finding the truth and reality of God. Thanks for such a thoughtful and vulnerable post. I feel truly saddened that I blew through Yom Kippur this year and didn’t pay it “any mind,” as they used to say in my neighborhood. My soul could use a little cleansing.
P.S. To the commenter above, atonment does mean “one with God” or in “right relationship with God,” when one understands God to be the embodiment of truth, love, grace, forgiveness, peace, mercy. . . Cheers!
P.P.S. Dawn, Did you ever read “Til We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis? Great treatment about the Greek gods and the outcome of various family members in an ancient (imaginary) household and town as they sorted through the smoke and mirrors of superstition, ancient rituals, tradition, and evidence of things not seen.
Great comment/response Eleanor! Thanks. No, I haven’t read the C.S. Lewis book, but will keep it in mind. I agree that your post on the six blind men and the elephant (which I enjoyed, and other should check out) brings up some similar issues, though we took different routes. For lots and lots of reasons, I have kept God private in my life and fairly vague. I totally respect those who have found their solid ground there, as it’s such a tough journey. I am amazed by my daughter’s search and conviction. Really.
I don’t think it’s too late to spend some time on Yom Kippur… sure it’s a date on the calendar, but it’s also a state of mind and a holiday that lingers. Take a day or two and give it some thought. Powerful stuff to look in and do some cleaning out. 😉 Though I think you do it pretty regularly anyway. Thanks for your thoughts cyber friend.