…if you’ll excuse the Open All Hours quote, as I don’t know how else to describe my Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
On the down side, I missed the whole of shul (synagogue) this morning and early afternoon. On Yom Kippur we stay in shul for several hours in the evening (yesterday) then from 8.00am or so until after nightfall (between 7.30 and 8.30pm or so, depending on the time of year) with only a short break mid-afternoon (dependent on how quickly we’ve got through the prayers and whether we need to pad out or hurry up to finish at nightfall). In theory. This is all possible because we fast totally (no food or drink at all except for life-threatening circumstances) all day (actually longer than twenty-four hours – it usually ends up about twenty-five and a half).
What actually happened to me this year (as last year) was that I went to the evening service yesterday and managed to get reasonably into the spirit of it, emotionally, but then struggled to sleep at night. I did eventually fall asleep, but as expected, when I woke up this morning I was completely exhausted from yesterday, plus I had very low blood sugar. On a normal day I would get up and eat breakfast and drink some coffee and slowly begin to feel a bit better, but that was out today, so I ended up spending the whole morning in bed. I think I managed to get up around 2.00pm, but it was hard and I kept going back to bed because I was so exhausted and probably also depressed (the exhaustion was overwhelming enough to be dominant).
I eventually managed to stay up and get dressed, getting to shul around 3.15pm, only to discover that the community was going on a break. I prayed to myself for a bit, then read some of the commentary in the machzor (festival prayer book). The service restarted at 3.50pm, but I spent a lot of time in the next couple of hours standing outside as it was very hot inside and needed fresh air. I usually get a bad headache from fasting on Yom Kippur and sometimes throw up, but to my surprise I was OK today. I was able to stay inside and join in enthusiastically with Neilah (the fifth and final Yom Kippur service – Yom Kippur is unique in having five prayer services rather than three (weekdays) or four (Sabbath and other festivals)), which is rare for me as usually I feel too ill.
So that was a negative that turned into a positive. The other negatives were a bit of religious OCD thinking that I more or less talked myself through, but which did make me feel bad for a while, and the fact that I was too tired to go back to shul after breaking my fast to help tidy up as I had hoped to do. I just felt too exhausted again. I feel bad that when they ask for volunteers for these things, it’s always the same people who join in, albeit that I am often one of them and probably shouldn’t feel too bad.
On the plus side, aside from missing most of shul, I did have some positive experiences. I felt as if something inside me shifted, not a conventional religious experience (still haven’t had one of those), but a change of perspective. When I got up today, I was thinking, “What if I do believe that God loves me and I’m too scared to accept what that would say about me [that I’m a good person, so I assume that God hates me]?” My thoughts immediately became very depressed and self-critical. I was in therapy for long enough to realise that a sudden dip in mood is often a sign of being on the right track and confronting myself with something my unconscious doesn’t want to hear!
Then later I was standing outside during Mincha (The Afternoon Service) trying to cool down. I can’t remember what my exact train of thought was, but I think it was something about feeling inadequate compared to other people and then I just thought that I can only do the best I can manage with my issues/background/life.
I know from experience moments like this are not always enduring. Probably I will go back to thinking that God hates me and that I should behave as a “normal” frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) person (pray with a community three times a day; study a significant amount of Torah, preferably Talmud, every day) regardless of my issues. Even if don’t go back to that negative view permanently, I probably will go back to it intermittently. Nevertheless, it was good to feel somewhat comfortable with my religious identity for a few hours and to know that having got to that point of realisation, it may be easier to get back to it in the future.
Then I came back home to break my fast and heard of the attack on the shul in Halle, Germany. It’s sad that my immediate response wasn’t shock or tragedy, but just to wonder if it was “neo-Nazis or Islamists?” so normal do these things seem to have become again (it seems to have been neo-Nazis in this case). I was also depressed to see ethnic cleansing in Syria on the news, which is also not surprising as it has been on the cards for some days now.