Today is Yom Kippur. Here's a quick refresher from History.com: “Yom Kippur is the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service.”
Yom Kippur is uncomfortable for the obvious reasons: not eating or drinking for 25 hours straight does not feel natural. While the body struggles, the mind oscillates between agitation and calm. I have been observing the holy fast for 15 years. Will I do it next year, and the following ones? I don’t know. For me, part of the day’s discomfort is asking myself why I actually decide to make it special. Why would a non-religious, non-believer, non-practicing, (food-loving!) Jew go through the hurdle of a fast — and most importantly, the reflection that goes with it?
Part of the answer is simply the acknowledgment and honoring of a piece of my identity. Though I didn’t choose to be born in a Jewish household, I respect the heritage that has been transmitted to me and survived painful decades and centuries, through stories, traditions, and community. I sometimes feel that my Jewish identity was “outsourced” for most of my life, through Jewish schools, youth movement, family gatherings and with little effort from me. But over the years, especially since living away from home, I have learned to pick and choose which habits, practices, and beliefs resonate with me, and in Kippur I have found meaning.
This day is about reflection. We’re meant to ask ourselves what wrong we did in the past year and ask for forgiveness to the people we’ve offended or hurt in any way. By doing so, we look back on a full year of experiences, relationships, growth, failures. Like many, I have a busy life in a fast-paced city (slightly less so in a pandemic) and spend most of my time working or socializing. I fill the blanks with devices. My mind is constantly running from one “to do” to the next, cluttered with noise and activities and conversations and always more. I don’t spend a lot of my time reflecting, thinking, or just being.
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”, says Hillel.
I'm very familiar with this quote and heard it hundreds of times, but never paid attention to the order. But this year it has a different taste. A friend recently told me something that resonated, she said “being in a good place personally is important to me because it means I can show up for others”. “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”. First, you show up for yourself. Do what you can to be healthy, find purpose and joy. Then you are able to be present for your loved ones, your community, and anyone who crosses your path. Taking care of yourself is both an opportunity to become and feel better, but also and maybe mostly a responsibility towards others. If I'm calm, I can support my friends through tough times. If I'm healthy, I can carry some of the weight on their shoulders. If I'm happy, I can share some of my joy and help them see the good in the dark.
This pandemic has been very difficult to deal with for many and it looks like we might all be getting back to some kind of lockdown in the coming weeks and months. Perhaps we can use this time to take a break from the business, and reflect? Here are a few questions I am asking myself today and for the months to come.
- Am I nurturing all the parts of my identity that matter to me?
- How do I feed my body, mind and soul?
- Have I spent enough time with myself?
- Am I happy with the language I use with myself?
- What routines/habits do I have? Are there any that I want to change? Add?
- Have I listened?
- Have I been honest?
- Have I been present?
- Do I tell people I love how much they mean to me? Do I say thank you enough?
- Have I lost anyone this year? How will I honor them in the future?
As a side note, Steve Schlafman offers a good guide to personal annual reviews here: https://schlaf.me/how-to-conduct-a-comprehensive-annual-review/