September 12, 2002
Date of Atonement
At this Sept. 11 anniversary, we as a community are forced to remember where we were one year ago, when the world as we knew it turned upside down, and stayed that way.
Where was I the day the Twin Towers crumbled? I'm a little embarrassed to say, but the truth is, I was on a JDate -- the online Jewish singles network where nice, little, single Jewish boys find nice, little, single Jewish girls to play with. Only instead of a friendly game of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," it's usually a delicate dance of, "I'll do my best to hide mine, if you do your best to hide yours."
I had been schmoozing online with a nice guy named "Josh" and we had made a plan weeks prior to meet for lunch at his favorite hamburger joint, Apple Pan, for an informal get-to-know-you burger. But when the news came on that morning, the greasy spoon's cheese-covered apple pie was the last thing on my -- or anybody's -- mind.
Around a half an hour before we were supposed to meet, Josh called me and we made a mutual decision to keep our plans. Whether it was a case of "maybe it was meant to be," a respect for beshert or the comfort of perfectly cooked french fries, we'll never know -- but for some reason, we both felt "the date must go on!" as if it were opening night of a Broadway show.
So there we were, two strangers meeting for the first time on the most solemn of occasions. I felt guilty for going on with life as usual. I deeply felt that everything should stop. But how could it? We were in a stage of active paralysis. Going through the motions of life, but not sure what they even meant anymore. The news, playing louder than usual, provided an audio backdrop for our conversation. Small talk such as, "Were you in a sorority at Penn?" or "Do you play sports?" seemed irrelevant in the foreground of burning buildings and total urban evacuation 3,000 miles away.
But when all was said and done -- we met, we ate and we actually made a connection during a time of complete confusion. Was our bond authentic or just a case of "safety in numbers?" There was no way to tell.
After lunch, Josh walked me to my car and we decided to go out again. Only problem was how would we match the drama and weight of a Sept. 11 first date? The only answer was to have our second date two weeks later on Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year. A virtual self-denial-a-thon.
Both of us committed to fasting, but being ransplants from the East Coast, we hadn't found a synagogue we felt at home in. So we decided to spend the day together reflecting.
Our Date of Atonement started in nature. We took a 100-plus-degree hike in the dry Malibu canyons, making resolutions and personal goals as we huffed and puffed up a dusty, shrub-lined trail. Together we shared a sweaty ablution of past sins, and brought to the surface potential new ones in an attempt to avoid them by exposing them in advance.
After our hike, we were stumped. What to do now? The usual date devices were not an option. Grab a coffee? No. Catch a movie? Uh-uh. After exhausting our possibilities, we agreed on taking a nap. And I'm talking a nap-nap, not a nap. Actual zzzs were involved.
When we awoke, having had not even an Altoid the entire day, we were ready to chow down, but the stubborn sun was not ready to set. After a while self-reflection can get a little monotonous. I felt like Narcissus on a starvation diet.
That day, I realized how much we singles hide behind date conventions. Movies, coffee, meals, music -- dates revolve around activities for a reason. To provide a commonality, a place to start, something to focus on. But not on this day -- it was just me and Josh. So by the time the sun went down and it was time to eat, we were tired and grouchy with that famous halitosis only a day of fasting could provide. There were no way it was going to work.
We survived the Day of Atonement together. But was struggling with temptation too much pressure for the second date? We got to know each other -- maybe a little too well -- and found out that hypoglycemia and dead air aren't a recipe for romance, but possibly the start of a beautiful friendship. At the end of the day -- the long day without food or activity -- we realized that we were not "meant to be." It would be our first and last fast together. But when I think back on our Yom Kippur kibitzing, I believe it's better to have spent two emotionally gut-wrenching days -- Sept. 11 and Yom Kippur -- bonding with a complete stranger, than never to have bonded at all. Who knows? Maybe we will go out again. Maybe we'll just have to wait for another disaster to strike for date No. 3.