Where is the House of the Lord? It depends on where you sit.
Am I a bad Jew? Last year on Yom Kippur, I sat smoking a cigar, on my Mac with a Starbucks Venti within reach. Looks like three strikes to me. A friend asked me back then if I would be going to temple for Yom Kippur. I told him I did not belong to a congregation in town.
So, where is hallowed ground for me? Does one only find it in a synagogue or can one find it in a cemetery visiting my daughter or in a backyard reading? I’d guess that it can be found in my heart and my personal relationship with G-d.
This is not a case against organized religion, for we, as Jews, know that to survive, we must mobilize and create a sense of community — build shuls, schools and centers where we can gather.
I was never one of those High Holiday Jews who show up just for the schmooze and is absent the other days of the year. But I am not one of those who attends in the off-season either, and for that, I have only one entity to answer to: you know who.
So, how will I observe the Day of Atonement 2020? Well first of all, the pandemic has removed our ability to attend synagogue so if we are to reflect we need to do it in the privacy of our home. Although I will not eat until sundown, I will indulge in the trappings of society, such as driving my car to get the break-fast bagels and making a deposit at the bank. But is that any less hypocritical than those who admonish me for not sitting in a house of worship during normal times? Does that make me a bad Jew?
A few weeks ago, I downloaded a copy of the Torah. I had not read it since my bar mitzvah. I am preparing for this Yom Kippur by reading the Five Books of Moses, and not just the passages for the holiday. I am evaluating my life, my losses and my loves. I feel close to G-od in my own way, and not any less holy than those who attended High Holiday services.
I see Yom Kippur as a day to reflect, repent and try to become a better and holier person. I think of those I wronged, those who wronged me, those I miss and those I am grateful to G-d I still have in my life. I lost my only child in 2001 and my faith has wavered to say the least but I ‘kinda’ believe. When I go to the cemetery, am I talking to Erica or asking G-d to relay a message?
I was raised with the belief that G-d doesn’t only exist within the confines of a building. The House of the Lord is one of those abstract things that is highly personal and yes, highly private. And being g-dly is not blaspheming. We are NOT trying to be the Lord but rather act in a way that He (yes..sounds sexist) commands us to follow. And sometimes we trip up, and sometimes we are astounded at the courage and love we muster.
Will I have repented? Will I ask for redemption of my transgressions? Will I become a better person because I will look into my heart and my soul and ask for guidance to set my life on a course that will cause “His countenance to shine on me?”
I certainly hope so — but in the end, that’s really our business. You know … me and Him.