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Becoming Jewish: Goodbye High Holidays, Hello Hanukkah Donut Countdown

It’s been an intense two weeks. But I am sad that the holidays are almost coming to an end.

This was my first Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Once we’re back at Hanukkah, I will have celebrated (or observed) all the holidays. While it feels weird to almost be back there again, and I cannot wait for those delicious donuts.

Throughout this whole year of holidays, I’ve experienced so many traditions that are exciting and strange and fun and uplifting. Although it’s not even over yet, I can safely say that Sukkot is my favorite. I guess the best was saved for last.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were built up to me so much by other people and my classes that I think it led to disappointment. These are supposed to be the holiest days, the high holidays, and I just couldn’t get into that mindset. As I said in my last column, I was happy and smiling while confessing my sins to G-D during Rosh Hashanah. My boyfriend Danny was upset with me because while he was being serious and trying to have a dialogue with G-D, I was giggling at the little boy; dressed in a Superman costume, running away from the seagulls on the beach.

During Yom Kippur, it wasn’t very different. I fasted, but that didn’t take me to a more spiritual place. At points, I just focused on the hunger, and at other times on the headache. Mostly, I thought about nothing at all. The services (not at my usual shul) were entirely in Hebrew, and I didn’t understand why we kept saying the same prayers over and over. If I said a certain prayer two times instead of three was that not good enough? Would the pearly white gates close on me? For a religion that doesn’t emphasize the afterlife, the whole heaven part of the holiday was a bit uncomfortable to me. Not to mention, everyone around me seemed to be much more into it than I was. I saw people crying and praying. I don’t know if I could ever imagine prayer being that intense for me.

The best part of the prayer services, for me, is always the Amida. Silent prayer. Confessing my sins and repenting along with a big group of people in a Shul did not feel comfortable for me. I want confession to be a silent thing. I even think it’s odd that people confess to priests. Maybe next year I’ll understand Yom Kippur more, but from my first experience, it definitely wasn’t what I expected and hoped it would be.

Sukkot is a totally different story though. Danny and I helped build my Shul’s sukkah, and I ate many of my meals and prayed in it this past week. I love the idea behind it- that the Sukkah represents how life is temporary. It reminds me of the fact to live in the now, and to not waste time on things that I don’t love doing. Fall (especially in New York) is the best, which also adds to how magical this holiday is. Spending so much time in my Shul and with the community there just made me even happier that I found it. I really feel like I belong there, especially since a fair number of the congregants are converting.

I look forward to the two holidays next week. But I’m pretty certain that my jelly donut craving won’t go away for the next two months.

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