an Episcopalian reflects on Yom Kippur

Tonight at sundown the sacred Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur begins. The day always gives this Episcopalian pause to reflect.

I have long had a deep affinity for Judaism. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade my Methodist Church Sunday school class took a field trip to the synagogue in Palm Springs for the festival of Sukkot. I was in the front row for the rabbi’s presentation. After my senior year in high school one of my favorite teachers taught a summer school course in Old Testament history, which I took even though I had graduated. We took a field trip to a synagogue thirty miles from Hemet where I was totally engaged.

Jewish prayer booksAt Pitzer College I became involved with the chaplain’s office, which served all the Claremont Colleges. I was as interested in what was going on with the Jewish community as I was in my own Protestant niche. My senior year at Pitzer and after graduation when I stayed in Claremont, I had a serious crush on a Jewish woman named Julia, with whom I went out once or twice. Sadly, my inept social skills prevented anything from coming of that.

After graduating from Pitzer in 1975 I worked at B. Dalton Bookseller, and in my ambition to become a store manager I moved to Laredo, Texas where I opened the first B. Dalton Bookseller in South Texas. After a year in Laredo I got a store in Oklahoma City to manage. I became involved in the Unitarian Church there, and that is where I met Ruth, a Jewish woman seven years my senior. We developed an intense relationship and after moving in together to a house in Moore, Oklahoma, an Oklahoma City suburb, we decided to get married. We wrote our own vows, but the rabbi at the Reform synagogue in Oklahoma City performed the ceremony in our backyard under a homemade chuppah, the ceremonial canopy under which Jews marry, that Ruth had put together.

We moved to California in 1985 and developed the practice of observing Shabbos on Friday evening. Ruth did the traditional prayer to greet the Sabbath and lit candles, while I read the appointed Torah portion, and we drank an appropriate Israeli wine. When we had Ruth’s two kids over the summer it was an especially meaningful time.

Ruth died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1989. Her graveside service was in Oklahoma City, officiated by the Conservative rabbi of her mother and stepfather’s synagogue. It was Passover, Jewish law stating that if burial can’t happen within twenty-four hours after death it should happen as soon as possible thereafter. The rabbi said, “Because it’s Passover we can’t have a eulogy, but we can teach.” He then delivered a beautiful eulogy. (Ruth had a thing about Passover in life as well as in death. She told me that in her first marriage where they were “more observant than the rabbi,” she had a nervous breakdown one Passover because it all became too much to handle.)

But before we left Oklahoma City, and before Ruth became furious at the rabbi for some disparaging remarks he made in a Shabbat sermon about New Age practitioners (of which Ruth was one), after which she no longer allowed us to attend the Friday evening services that I loved, I had the opportunity to attend one, and only one, Erev Yom Kippur service. It was a cold, blustery evening in Oklahoma City, and the synagogue was full (just like a Christian church on Easter). The Kol Nidre moved me deeply, just as it does today when I watch it via YouTube.

So here I am, an Episcopalian since 1997 in the most Trinitarian of Trinitarian denominations, and yet I continue to question why I need a Son and Holy Spirit to mediate between me and God.

On this Day of Atonement 2022 (5783 in the Jewish calendar), as my eyes fill with tears listening to the Kol Nidre, I say to my Jewish friends:

May your fast be easy.

books on Judaism

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