Choose Your Own Judaism for 5781

I didn’t fast for Yom Kippur this year.

I won’t have the opportunity to sit in a sukkah this year.

I’m probably not going to attend services this year.

And that’s okay.

If the past six months dealing with COVID-19 have taught us anything, it’s that no plans are set in stone. The universe has a funny way of pulling the rug out from beneath us. In isolation from friends and extended family, we’ve experienced the polar extremes of sweet and sour.

Comfort and pain.

Especially nowadays, it’s important to remember there’s no right way to express your Judaism.

On Yom Kippur, we fast to practice self-denial and look inward. I’ve had half a year during this pandemic to get in touch with my spirituality and reflect on my life, so this tradition isn’t cutting it for me. In a way, we’ve been fasting from our regular lives, and we feel that discomfort with every Zoom Shabbat dinner and mask-donned grocery store run.

The day we swing open our doors and reconvene will be the most fulfilling “break fast” of our generation, but until then, we’re focusing on the emptiness in our spirits.

Similarly, with the pandemic, there’s no way I feel comfortable stepping foot into a sukkah, a space notorious for being small and in close proximity to people. Sure, it’s open-air, but I’m not removing my mask to take a bite of challah.

The rationale for visiting a sukkah is to remind us of escaping Egypt and the temporary shelters we donned as we thanked God for freeing us. In 2020, this reminds me of the people experiencing homelessness at Camp Teddy on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Rather than step in a sukkah, I can donate supplies and money to support those who, like the Israelites in the book of Exodus, are seeking shelter in the wilderness and protection from a system that unfairly targeted them.

Like I said, this pandemic has offered all of us quiet time to reflect and get in touch with ourselves. This level of spirituality is unprecedented, and we cannot drown out our feelings and prayers with the bustle of everyday life.

If Jewish traditions fulfill you, that’s wonderful. I hope you find solace in your Yom Kippur fast or prayer in your sukkah. Me? COVID-19 has shown me the inherent Jewish values hiding in the world.

Find those values, and hold onto them. Wherever your heart takes you is a valid expression of Judaism.

Shana Tovah.


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