My First Yom Kippur

  
Laura & Zach on their honeymoon

Laura and Zach at Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal, enjoying their honeymoon

Zach and I were married on September 16! We were away having a blast on our honeymoon in Portugal, but before we had time to post our honeymoon pics to Facebook or look through our wedding photos, Yom Kippur was upon us.

I had decided a few days before we got back that I would be joining Zach in the fast for Yom Kippur. For most of the other years we’ve been together, Yom Kippur has fallen on a weekday and I’ve been working. I would usually meet him for the evening service, but I had never joined him for the whole day fast. I decided that now that we were married, it was important for me to join him in this observance, so that we could begin our faith life as a family, not just two individuals.

Zach at the cross at Pena Palace

How interfaith! Zach (pictured) and Laura hiked up to the high cross at Pena Palace on their honeymoon

You may say, well, Catholics fast, right? And my answer would be, sort of. For example, Catholics are supposed to fast on Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, but this “fasting” means one full meal and two smaller meals, as long as they do not add up to a single normal meal. Needless to say, the undisciplined can go downhill quickly, myself included. My Good Friday fast usually includes a meatless lunch, but I convince myself that I need to eat enough to continue working at my job. Therefore, the prospect of going all day without food on Yom Kippur seemed daunting.

Let me tell you, friends–my first Yom Kippur went surprisingly well. First of all, I was worried that my “hanger” (anger resulting from hungriness) would get the best of me. I saw that, throughout the day, I was able to take strength in my weakness, and knowing that others were experiencing the same weakness filled me with patience and love for the community. Zach and I attended a morning service with Interfaith Families Project of DC, and I was able to see for the first time how this Jewish and Christian community worked (Zach had attended another service of theirs before). I was inspired by the inclusivity and friendliness of the community, as well as the different backgrounds or spiritual paths of the community members. It was a wonderful and welcoming experience.

Second, I learned that napping can be key to a successful Yom Kippur. We came back from the morning service, and about an hour or so after we had been quietly unpacking from the wedding and the honeymoon, the hunger set in, and I felt more and more tired. Instead of pushing past it, which is my normal tendency, I let my body be tired. I stopped working, even though there was still plenty to do, and read through our wedding guestbook, and then took a nap. Friends, I never nap. I need earplugs and a facemask to fall asleep on a normal night, but I was asleep in 10 minutes. Thankfully we set an alarm to alert us to get ready for the evening service.

We went to Sixth & I Synagogue in Chinatown for the neilah evening service. I had attended this service at this location last year with Zach on Yom Kippur, but as I mentioned, this was my first year doing the fast, and I was nervous about not only staying focused but standing up and not getting sick.

The collective strength of that community kept me on my feet and singing for the whole hour plus of the service. What a beautiful, urgent way to plead with God for mercy and forgiveness! It was a prayer for which we had emptied ourselves all day, which actually sharpened my focus rather than dulled it.

All in all, for me it was a Yom Kippur in which I not only successfully fasted, but I gained meaning, prayed intensely, practiced patience, surveyed my faults and mistakes and grew closer to my spouse. Yom Kippur presented a beautiful opportunity after we had returned from our honeymoon to reflect on the past year and prepare for the next year, the first in our married lives. I’m so thankful for that opportunity–and my next post will fill you in on our actual wedding! Spoiler alert: Multiple friends and family members told us it was one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they had attended. So stay tuned.

Laura and Zach on their honeymoon

When a Major Jewish Holiday Clashes With a Major Family Wedding

  

By Debra Lynn Shelton

When a major family wedding clashes with a major holiday

My cousin is getting married on Yom Kippur. And her dress rehearsal is on Kol Nidre. Yes, you read that right. So, what’s a good relative to do?

Apparently when she and her non-Jewish fiancé scheduled their most special event, they had no idea the date coincided with the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. By the time they realized the conflict, it was too late. They weren’t able to change the date of their wedding at the fancy country club where it was booked.

On a scale of religiousness, our family ranges from fairly religious to completely non-participating. So the fairly religious contingent now have a difficult decision to make.

The bride is my first cousin, the daughter of my mom’s younger brother. For my immediate family (parents and sisters) the knee-jerk reaction was: reject the occasion altogether. Send a gift, but don’t attend.

I mean, how disrespectful could you be to schedule your special day on such a somber and important holiday? What could the future bride and groom have been thinking? What could they expect? But the deeper we delved into the dilemma, the more complicated it became.

For my mom who is fairly religious, in her mid-70s, and lives across the country from her two brothers, the decision was especially difficult. She was choosing between sharing the joyous celebration including magnificent meals with her cherished brothers vs. observing the High Holidays by attending services and fasting.

Rather than asking the audience, she decided to “phone a friend.” That friend was her rabbi who happened to be in Israel on a trip with fellow congregants.

After explaining the situation, my mom asked: “What advice can you give our family regarding attending the wedding? I can hear my father’s voice saying, ‘family is family.’  How do I choose between my family and my faith?” 

His response was surprising. On a call from Jerusalem the rabbi advised: “Don’t go, but do send a gift. Do not tell her why you are not going.”

This confused my mom even more, especially the last part. If she chose not to go, why not stand up and say why?

She called her brothers to discuss the situation, and their voices reminded her of the deep love they share. In the end, that love overpowered everything else. She and my dad booked their tickets and will be attending the wedding at the end of September.

The bride-to-be also showed some flexibility, changing the time of the rehearsal dinner so anyone who wishes may attend Kol Nidre services. She also researched nearby temples and their times for services on Friday night and Saturday.

Her Saturday evening wedding is, technically, after the holiday is over. I think she genuinely feels bad about the predicament this has put her observant family members in, and has done what she can to rectify the situation. (I’m sure many of you will disagree with this.)

Personally, I’ve come full circle. At first I was ready to book my plane ticket. Then I thought, since it was so disrespectful of the bride and groom to put so many in such a challenging position, I wouldn’t go. Then I considered what really matters: family. So I’ll be checking out flight and hotel information soon.

This isn’t an uncommon dilemma in our world where so many levels of observance can be found in one family. Secular Jews may have weddings or birthday parties or even graduations or professional milestones that involve travel on Saturdays, for instance—leaving their Sabbath-observant relatives torn.

After all is said and done, as inconsiderate as keeping the wedding date scheduled for Yom Kippur is, I’m of the opinion that, as my grandfather said, “Family is family.”

The High Holidays will occur again next year. My cousin’s wedding will not. So, I’ll be joining my parents to watch my cousin walk down the aisle (They plan on attending services near the wedding venue.) I’m looking forward to spending time with relatives I don’t get to see very often, and to celebrating this special milestone with them.

But it isn’t an easy choice. Dear readers, I wonder: what would you do?

This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.

When S**t Got Real

  
Jose & Emily

Jose & Emily at a wedding over Labor Day

All the wedding planning up until now was smooth. It felt like a dream, somewhere between a fairytale type of dream and the feeling of being separated from reality. Like those moments when you first fall asleep and can’t decide whether you are awake. At some point, I should have pinched myself to see if I was awake. Instead, life took care of that for me.

Things in my life changed. Some things were bad. Things started happening in the lives of those very close to me. Everything collided simultaneously. No matter what was happening, it wasn’t raining—it was pouring, and I didn’t have an umbrella. S**t got real.

I get angry thinking about earlier Emily in her previous posts. Why was she so darn cheery? Why was everything such a breeze for her? Screw her! When serious things started to happen in my life, I didn’t think I could plan a wedding anymore. I did a lot of thinking and that thinking led to doubt. Were we making decisions without thinking about budget? What is our budget anyway? Did we research things enough to make informed decisions? Was this was the type of wedding I wanted? Were the things that were chosen for us as uniquely and appropriately “me” as I wanted them to be?

Yes, we won a wedding contest, and most of the vendors were chosen for us and are free, but other things are covered at a base price that we will end up upgrading. Still, other things are not covered at all. That may add up to a considerable amount of money in the long run. Since s**t had recently gotten real in my life, I started to get insanely frustrated when people said, “Well you won a free wedding so there’s not much to complain or worry about.” OK, maybe it was my fault for telling everyone it was free, but I was suddenly wrestling with my gratitude for winning and the reality of what the final bill would be. And I certainly did have a lot to complain and worry about aside from the wedding.

I am eternally appreciative of what we are receiving, and I hate saying anything that sounds less than grateful. After all, instead of being a free wedding, it’s probably more like the sale-of-a-lifetime on a wedding, which no one really gets, and that’s nothing to take lightly.

Things have started to come around for me. I think about where I was mentally in the last month, and I’m glad everything is evening out. I am excited to plan our wedding and I’m so excited to look into Jose’s eyes as I say my vows. I realize that’s what really matters, not all the silly decisions. He’s been my rock through this adversity, and I’m weirdly grateful for everything that’s happened, since this tough time has served to strengthen our partnership. It has reinforced that Jose is the man I want to spend my life with. He always has a way of making me laugh and bringing me back to what’s important in life. He’s my best friend and my soul mate.

I’ve turned the corner mentally, aided by the contemplative and introspective time of the Jewish “Days of Awe;” the time between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This time offers the chance to right your wrongs from the last year and reflect on how you’d like to improve in the next year. It’s an interesting task to contemplate the sins you’ve made against yourself, your loved ones and your community. This offers a chance to connect deeper with family members and those close to you, and to reach out for support.

With plenty of time to think, I arrived at a place of happiness and contentment with our wedding choices and with what we have been given. The wedding will be incredible, and not because it’s some magical fairytale, but because it’s real. Because it isn’t perfect. Because real s**t can happen in our lives and Jose and I can get through it together. Because we are better together than we are apart and I want to scream that from the top of the Loews Hotel Philadelphia in December!

A Hard Year Behind Us, A New Year Ahead

  


“Rosh Hashana is the new set of instructions, the new game plan coming down from Heaven.” – David Sacks, Leader of The Happy Minyan.

One of the things we celebrate at this time year is the chance to begin anew.

As of this past Friday, life is going to be starting in new ways quite frankly which we had not planned. I lost my job. And for the first time in awhile, I am simply at a loss for words.

I was trying to come up with a theme or message for this post, but keep coming up short. Therefore, I will do what happens when I go and give a mentoring talk and am not feeling incredibly inspired. Just share my honest experience and hope I am able to help one person.

This year has been tough, for Lisa and me. A year ago, I was stuck in a chair, completely laid up due to a massive knee surgery. The return to normal from there has been a long process and I still feel some of the effects of that every day. Lisa and I also were pushed out of one of the things we loved most in this world and the thing that brought us together: roller derby. And now, we are dealing with the loss of a job. All while planning a wedding.

Jilly, a niece and a flower girl, after her first roller coaster!

This weekend we had a simple mission. Put one foot in front of the other one. Do the next right thing. Be in the moment. The remainder of Friday was spent talking to my spiritual adviser as well as my temple rabbis. One even shared that while she was getting married, her husband lost a job too. Saturday and Sunday we were visiting Lisa’s family, trying to remain normal and focus on being around people who care for us. When I look back at the weekend, I remember the people who cared, the people who reached out and the look on our niece, and flower girl’s face after she got off her first roller coaster.

Monday, we are back to the new reality.

Tuesday, we marched ahead and continued planning our wedding the way we envisioned it. We are too far along to be able to change much.

The next couple weeks are now going to be split between holidays, wedding planning and a job search. Lisa has a lot coming up as well. Her bridal shower and attending her first Jewish High Holiday services.

These upcoming weeks are going to be interesting. So in the meantime, L’shanah tovah (Happy New Year).