Article

Young Jewish adults find ‘meaningful,’ if not traditional, ways to celebrate Yom Kippur

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

By Kennedy Wirth

The Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish year, begins at sundown Tuesday. For some people, avoiding work and technology as prescribed is simply impractical, but they embrace the spirit of the day in other ways.

Yom Kippur is a very personal celebration for many Jewish people, and some young Jewish adults have adopted their own ways of observing the Day of Atonement.

This year the holiday will be celebrated from sunset Tuesday through Wednesday night. It is the holiest day of the Jewish year, marked on the 10th day of the Jewish month Tishrei. Traditionally, Yom Kippur is observed by refraining from work, participating in a 25-hour fast and attending multiple synagogue services. Through fasting and prayer, Jewish people repent their sins of the past year.

Tanya Fink, 25, is a resident of Seattle’s Moishe house, which hosts events for young Jewish professionals. She identifies as Reform Jewish and describes her faith as a different form of traditional Orthodox Judaism.

“The trend for younger Jews is taking their own personal approach to Yom Kippur,” Fink said. “ … We have jobs and school that we can’t always get out of so it puts pressure on us to find meaningful ways to celebrate it in a personal way.”

Fink reflects on her mistakes and relationships over the past year. She also thinks about social-justice issues and how she can do her part to encourage change in the coming year.

“I’m not as concerned with spending the whole day in synagogue — that’s not as meaningful for me,” Fink said. “The words that come out of my mouth don’t have to be the exact Hebrew words that my ancestors said.”

In the 10 days leading up to Yom Kippur, Fink subscribes to a website called “Do You 10Q” that sends her a question to reflect upon each day. A big part of her reflection during Yom Kippur stems from the website’s questions: How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you?

Fink also participates in Tashlich, which means to “cast off” in Hebrew. She does this anytime between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Those who do this toss bread, like Fink did last year in Lake Washington, or bird seed into a body of water to physically represent casting off regrets. She also fasts and tries to wear white, which is a traditional custom.

“The fast is definitely meaningful to me. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and connects you with all Jewish people around the world,” Fink said.

For busy college students, it can be difficult to take off the entire day. Lee Segal, 20, is a junior at the University of Washington and identifies as Reform Jewish. She participates in the fast and goes to synagogue services for the beginning and end of the holiday.

“Technically, you’re not supposed to use technology or drive, you’re only supposed to sit and think all day, but as a student I can’t do that,” Segal said.

Every year, she reflects by writing down three things she is most sorry for and how she can change them. This is her way of asking for forgiveness and improving in the new year.

Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue in Seattle offers daily reflection exercises on its website and encourages young Jewish people to think about what is important this time of year.

“I think that younger people and younger generations are looking for a refreshed meaning in the holidays and not (just) celebrating them because that’s what’s always been done,” said Rachel Sofferin, interim executive director at Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue.

Sofferin encourages mindful eating and journaling as a good place to begin to find meaning in the holiday.

There is a strong community focus on Yom Kippur. Young adults with busy schedules are encouraged to spend time with their community and pray or reflect together. With a number of services offered throughout the day, everyone is encouraged to attend synagogue when they can.

“It is the one holiday of the year where it is really a community holiday,” said Carol Benedick, executive director at Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle. “If there are young people that can’t make it to the synagogue, then they find a group because it isn’t about being alone.”

Not all young Jewish adults stray from tradition. Nathan Wasserman, 24, also lives in Seattle’s Moishe House and identifies as modern Orthodox Jewish. Wasserman describes his celebration of the holiday as very traditional, which is how he grew up celebrating. He fasts and attends synagogue services throughout the day. He also sticks to tradition by taking the day off from work, refraining from wearing leather, washing and using lotions or perfumes as not to show wealth.

“It’s the single most important day on the Jewish calendar,” Wasserman said. “It’s about asking for forgiveness.”

Read the original article at The Seattle Times here.

This Normal Life: The Epic Fail of Rosh Hashana

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

“Rosh Hashana is an epic fail.”

That was the gist of a provocative column by Jay Michaelson published earlier this month in The Forward.

Michaelson, who writes on religion and progressive politics and is the author of a half dozen books, including Everything is God, wasn’t talking about whether Rosh Hashana should or should not be observed but rather how it is practiced, particularly in the large non-Orthodox synagogues of America where The Forward’s main readership is.

The solemn responsive readings and monotone formality, contrasted with the fashion-show frivolity in the pews, make Rosh Hashana just about the worst interface for Jews who only visit a synagogue one or two days a year, Michaelson says.

While Michaelson was writing specifically about Jewish life in the US, his message applies to Israel too, where the synagogues are similarly packed on Rosh Hashana with less than regular, shofar-seeking worshipers.

Michaelson’s column, not unexpectedly, elicited major pushback with commenters resorting to some ferocious name-calling.

But the thing is: he’s not wrong – if you’re willing to think outside the four walls of the shul box.

Rosh Hashana has some great messages, to be sure. Celebrating symbolic renewal on this “birthday of the world” – on both the national and personal levels – gives us a prescribed framework for expressing gratitude for what we have and a safe space to acknowledge the beauty and blessing that exists if we are willing to push past the cynical.

Seeking forgiveness from our family, friends and neighbors and – more importantly – from ourselves for not living up to the unreachable expectations we so often set, is an important step toward living a more mindful life. There is great communal value in looking back at the year and tallying up our accomplishments (and shortcomings) as if our lives depended on it.

It’s just that we’re doing it in the wrong location.

The synagogue is no place for Rosh Hashana. The brick-heavy mahzor (holiday prayer book) has become, over the years, more akin to a never-ending Wikipedia entry, containing every prayer and piyut (Jewish liturgical poem) that was ever written, than a guidebook for spiritual connection.

Trying to find the meaningful messages in the morass is possible, but one is just as likely to nod off or go numb as the day stretches on for four or five hours. And then you wake up and do it all over again the next day.

What is Michaelson’s prescription for the High Holy Day dilemma? Skip Rosh Hashana entirely and commit to a different day on the Jewish calendar. Michaelson recommends Succot – a holiday of “harvest, joy, environmentalism [and] companionship” that is everything Rosh Hashana isn’t: interactive, kinesthetic and engaging.

I’m a big fan of Succot, too. But I’m not ready to dump Rosh Hashana just yet. There are other ways to rehabilitate the day.

Why not get together with family and friends, whether for a meal or a hike or a game of cards, and use the themes of Rosh Hashana as triggers for deep discussions on repentance or how to build a better, safer and more just society.

The Unetaneh Tokef prayer is a good place to start. It sensitizes us to the fragility of life in a world filled with terror.

“Who will die at his predestined time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague?”

There’s even a bonus prompt to spur discussion on privilege and class.

“Who will be impoverished and who will be enriched?”

Or combine a debate about Rosh Hashana’s ancient emphasis on “kingship” with a comparison to Game of Thrones.

Has the world gotten any better since that admittedly mythical time? Or do misogyny, sexism and battle-hardened testosterone still loom large in our supposedly enlightened age? (At least we don’t have dragons.)

Do all this even if you do go to synagogue.

Every year before the High Holy Days, the Jewish non-profit organization Reboot offers a tool called “10Q.”

10Q is a website (doyou10q.com) that presents you with ten questions that you answer online. You then click “Send to Vault” and the site locks your answers away until the following year, when you receive an email inviting you to review what you wrote and to reflect on the year just passed.

The questions are meant for private introspection, but they work well in a Rosh Hashana group too.

“Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?”

“Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?”

“What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?”

“Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?”

The final 10Q section allows you to write down predictions for the coming year. Do that communally – and open the list from last year to see how you did. (I predicted another summer war with Hamas, about which I’m very pleased to have been wrong.)

Spend at least some of Rosh Hashana contemplating these questions and you’ll be much closer to the true spirit of the holiday.

As Michaelson writes at the conclusion of his piece, you can “go to synagogue some other time.”

The author is a freelance writer who specializes in technology, startups and the entrepreneurs behind them. More at www.bluminteractivemedia.com.

Original article can be found on The Jerusalem Post here.

KQED, Sept. 17, 2010

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Jewish Organization Marks Yom Kippur With Billboards
San Francisco’s Jewish Community Federation is marking the solemn, high holiday of Yom Kippur with billboards. The “Ten-Q” project uses truck-mounted signs with questions like, “what is a fear you have, and how has it limited you??
http://www.kqed.org/a/kqednews/R201009171004

The New York Jewish Week

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Going Digital for Repentance

Robin Chotzinoff reflects in the August/September 2010 issue of Hadassah Magazine about how she observed the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (the ten days of repentance) last year by answering a series of e-mail questions from 10Q. Ben Greeman, who launched the project in 2008 explains that “we tried to let people tap back into tradition, but without feeling like they have to pass an entrance exam.”

Check out the full article here

Las Vegas City Life

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Big screens, big questions

A religious holiday brings reflection to the Strip

The kind of self-reflection usually happening at Fashion Show Mall involves gazing into plate glass windows, fixing hair and adjusting clothes. It’s a commercial space, not a place for contemplation — with wraparound storefronts, mobile kiosks and an endless loop of commercials on the giant screens overhead.

But for 10 days in September, an experiment is bringing spiritual questions to the four video screens above the outdoor concourse.

Read the full article here

USA Today

Friday, September 10th, 2010

Rosh Hashanah, Eid al-Fitr marked by turmoil, questions, hope

One way Jews mark the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is with soul-searching. Jews traditionally ask themselves how they have lived in the year gone by and how they might do better in the one to come.

For the second year, Reboot, a Jewish group out to rev up culture, rituals and traditions for contemporary believers, has its 10Q project underway. 10Q takes Rosh Hashanah imperative of questioning oneself to the world with electronic billboards in Times Square and other places and a web site where people are invited to ask and offer answers that reflect on “values, hopes and visions.”

Read the complete article here

Tom Felton tweets about 10Q

Friday, September 10th, 2010

http://twitter.com/TomFelton

Tampa Bay Tribune

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

“Harry Potter’s” Draco Malfoy is doing it. So is “Glee’s” Sue Sylvester.

The creators of the 10Q project are hoping tens of thousands of other followers will join actors Tom Felton and Jane Lynch in “digitally rebooting” the Jewish High Holy Days.

Tonight at sundown, the 10 Days of Awe begin with Rosh Hashana, also known as the Jewish new year, and wrap up Sept. 18 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Although it’s one of the most important Jewish religious observances, not all of the faithful participate in the spiritual custom of attending synagogue or gathering with friends.

That’s where the 10Q project comes in. A nonprofit, New York-based group created a website, www.doyou10Q.com, asking participants questions designed to make them think about things they celebrate, regret and hope to change.

More here – Tampa Bay Tribune

The Jewish Theological Seminary on 10Q

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Launched before Rosh Hashanah this year, www.renewyear.com brought the idea of aseret ye’mei ha-teshuva—the ten days of return—to the web. In the Jewish calendar, these ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur have been dedicated to making amends between both God and humanity. The liturgical additions arouse repentance and rabbinic writings encourage each individual to take the time to do a heshbon ha-nefesh (accounting of the soul). For a modern spin, the website’s “10Q” provides a different question each day for this introspection and self-reflection. (I won’t give them away here as the organizers have done a wonderful job to entice people to visit the site. Go ahead—check out www.renewyear.com). It is the traditional model of the ten days, but in a digital form. Through the website, your answers to the guiding questions are saved and will be sent to you shortly before Rosh Hashanah 5771 so you can see how the year went. The site is renewing an old custom for the digital age and making a tradition relevant to modern Jews who spend much of their time focused on LCD screens.

This week’s commentary was written by Rabbi Marc Wolf, Vice Chancellor and Chief Development Officer, JTS — Read the rest here

The Jewish Week: "Times Square Teshuvah"

Friday, September 25th, 2009

The flashing lights and crowded streets of Times Square aren’t particularly conducive to introspection. Come Friday that may change.

During the 10-day period from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur, an oversized electronic billboard on the Reuters Building in Times Square will prompt passersby with questions like: “Is there something you wish you had done differently this past year?”; “Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year?” ; and “What global event most affected you last year, and why?”

Anyone, Jewish or not, can sign up to receive a question a day for 10 days, which can be privately reflected upon and answered anonymously online. Those who submit all 10 responses at www.doyou10q.com will receive an e-mail before the High Holy Days next year reminding them of their hopes, dreams and fears.

The campaign, dubbed 10Q, is the brainchild of British screenwriter and playwright Nicola Behrman and New Yorker editor and novelist Ben Greenman. The two came up with the idea at a conference hosted by REBOOT, a network of young, Jewish creative types. REBOOT provided the seed grant to fund the project.

More here – The Jewish Week: “Times Square Teshuvah”