On Forgiveness

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent. The day he forgives them, he becomes an adult. The day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.

Aidan Nowlan

Tonight Jews all over the world will gather in their communities and ask for forgiveness from God so that they may be inscribed in the Book of Life. And me? I will do what I did last week, I will stay in the archives, reflecting, praying, and probably cleaning.

I experience an enormous amount of guilt whenever I don’t join the community in observing holidays, especially the most sacred ones like Yom Kippur. I think that’s part of the reason I try to fill my life with Jewishness by working at my synagogue, teaching religious school, going on Jewish trips, etc. I may not go to services, but you can’t say that I’m not engaged. That goes a long way in assuaging the guilt, but there’s no denying the fact that Judaism centers around the family and community.

I have a great dislike of the holidays that stems from unpleasant Thanksgiving and Christmas memories with family (or rather, the lack thereof). I once lamented to Rabbi Stern that only I would choose a religion that has the two things I struggle with the most: family and even more┬áholidays. Last year was particularly tough for me to cope with and during my post-High Holidays talk with Rabbi Stern I asked him if I was a bad Jew for not going to services, making sure to mention that I was at least in the building. I don’t know what I was expecting him to say, but after a pause he asked me why I came to Temple if I didn’t want to attend services.

“Because I wanted to be close to the community, even if I didn’t want to actually be with them. Temple is a comforting place for me, a second home. There’s a peace here that I can’t seem to find anywhere else.”

He pointed out that I could have chosen to stay home, but I instead wanted to be at Temple. He went on to say that maybe this just isn’t the right time to push me into the congregational services, that I needed to work on that relationship so that I don’t become completely put off by the community. In short, I needed to find my own way and I was already doing just that. I suppose that this year is a continuation of that.

Has my relationship with the community changed? Yes, in small, but important, ways. Am I ready to go into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services? No, and that disappoints me, but I’m not going to beat myself up for it like I’ve done in years past. In saying that, it feels like I’m forgiving myself, which is something that rarely happens.

G’mar Hatima Tova, may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

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