I stood at the front of a park on September 11th, gazing at the Manhattan skyline and the two beautiful beams of light which punctured the intermittent clouds. I looked around me to see people taking in the same sights, the same memories of that terrible day with people who were meaningful to them. It struck me, in a selfish way, of how alone I was. Families pushed tired and hot children in strollers. Couples meandered around the park in contemplation on the far too hot night.
I was different because I was alone. I sobbed, at the foot of the park. Not because anyone I knew personally that had been lost, but acutely feeling the grief that loneliness and uncertainty brings.
The Jewish calendar affords many check-in points during the year for introspection. A year ago, I was coming off a losing custody battle. I was trying my very hardest to incorporate some sense of yiddishkeit into my life to make sense of the world and also appease my family. I kashered my kitchen. I resolved to grow stronger in yiddishkeit and leave the cult of my parents behind.
This year on Rosh Hashanah, I was excited to put on the uniform. Excited for davening. Excited for the immeasurably sweet taste of an apple dipped in honey. Except the reality this year didn’t live up to the expectations I had in my head. Sure, the rabbi was welcoming at the modern orthodox shul. The people were friendly enough. Nothing clicked. Davening for the state of Israel when I was raised in a completely different way felt like a betrayal – even though I reject the way I was raised to believe.
I waited for shofar. I waited for the sound to puncture my skepticism and for the heilige bashefer to touch me directly in my neshome. Nothing came. Nothing but guilt for not feeling how I should have been feeling.
People change, like seasons do. What is the purpose of atonement when it’s insincere? When atoning for your own sins hurts others? That’s not my kind of Yiddishkeit. That’s simply not my kind of humanity.