A new kind of Yom Kippur
    The Jewish High Holidays are supposed to be a time for reflection; a time to look at the past year and to look inward; a time to reevaluate life and the many aspects of it.

    I believe this is lost on Jewish youth.

    I can’t speak for all of Jewish youth, and I can’t even speak for all of the Jewish youth at Northwestern. But in the past few days, I’ve seen a kind of peer pressure to be more religious. Suddenly, I'm experience a push to fast harder, pray harder and atone harder. As I see peers going to temple for the sole time this year, and struggling through the day as they long for some bread and laugh about sneaking food when no one can see, I wonder if these people are celebrating Yom Kippur or simply putting up with the social norms of the Jewish people.  

    Everyone should be able to observe the High Holy days in his or her own way. Like many other Jews, I am not religious and consider myself a cultural Jew. I am very proud of my Judaism and what my people have overcome, but I am not one to believe in God or to sit in services for hours without understanding the content of the prayers or what I am praying for.

    When the High Holidays come around, I have dinner with my friends and family and talk about the year and my regrets, but you will not find me at temple. This year, I spent Kol Nidre – the eve of Yom Kippur – in the library. When I got home I ate a banana and then some cereal.

    I don’t do this to be offensive. I don’t do this to protest. This is simply how I observe Yom Kippur.

    For me, starving for a day means nothing, but having dinner at night and discussing the holiday means everything. In the past few days I have been asked multiple times – are you fasting? Did you go to services? When I say no to both, I get the occasional dirty look. Sometimes I attempt to explain myself, how I don’t like sitting in a temple simply because I feel like I have to, listening to words I can’t understand and saying things that I don’t know if I believe. I don’t want to fast simply because other people I know are doing it.

    Many Jews grow up feeling like they have to go to temple and they have to fast. They do it because their parents make them or their friends are going, and I think those people are going for all the wrong reasons. In my mind, going to temple by force is equivalent to not going at all. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, and there are many people my age who truly want to observe Yom Kippur, they want to fast to remember their sins from the past year and they go to temple to atone. I respect these people – just as I hope they can respect me for how I observe the holidays.

    So, I’ll eat. I’ll do work and go to class, and come Wednesday night, I’ll go to dinner with my friends as they break the fast. We’ll talk about the year, what we atone for, but also we’ll spend time together. Because that’s the best way that I know how to observe the High Holidays, and if I get dirty looks in the process, so be it.


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