Jewish Journal

Slowing Down for the Holidays

by Susan Esther Barnes

September 18, 2013 | 1:00 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

Yom Kippur last year was a mad rush. I went to services in the morning, dashed off to a retirement home to do a service for them, rushed over to the civic center to listen to a Q&A with Rabbi Doug Kahn of the JCRC followed by afternoon and concluding services, then to a restaurant for break-the-fast, only to collapse in bed at home before rising early to help build the synagogue's two sukkot at 6am.

It was too much to do, in too short a time. How is anyone supposed to engage in proper Yom Kippur reflection while rushing around like that? Part of it was caused by the fact that we have such a large congregation that we hold some concurrent services at the synagogue and the civic center, as well as some separate events at each location, but most of it was because of my own choices.

This year, it was different. I stayed at the synagogue all day. Yes, it meant I had to miss the healing service and the Q&A with Rabbi Kahn at the civic center, but it was well worth it.

After I helped to clean up the sanctuary following the morning service, I chatted with friends as families arrived for the children’s service. I sat in on the last part of the children’s service, and helped to clean up the sanctuary again.

Then, instead of rushing off for the healing service and the Q&A, I just sat outside the synagogue. I watched as the bustling crowds disbursed. I listened to a band practicing somewhere in the neighborhood. I eyed some almonds, presumably left by one of the kids attending the children’s service, abandoned on the bench nearby, and wondered how long it would take for the neighborhood birds to come eat them.

I chatted with the security guard, who’d gotten his job four months ago. He said, even though it was his birthday, this was his favorite assignment so far, because everyone here has been so friendly. He said at all his other assignments, people seem to be trying to avoid looking at him. In contrast, while guarding our synagogue, he experienced many people saying hello and thanking him for looking out for us.

I listened to the cars and the birds and the wind in the trees. Then, the musicians for the afternoon service started arriving, and I chatted with them, and other congregants as they arrived, until it was time to go back in for the service.

At the end of the service, we sang our way outside, where we did Havdalah and had the break-the-fast. I still waited for sundown before breaking my fast at a restaurant, and fell into bed exhausted afterward, but the next morning I didn’t have to arrive at the synagogue to start building the sukkot until 8am.

All in all, it was a much better way to spend Yom Kippur. It was much more restful, and allowed me the time I needed to slow down and to appreciate what was surrounding me. It was a beautiful island in time.

By the time you read this, my time of rest will be over. I will be, God willing, on my vacation, where I will be, appropriately, spending the holiday of Sukkot moving every two nights and sleeping in tents. As a result, I will not be posting anything next week, but I hope to report on my adventures the week after that.

May the new year bring you joy, rest, and peace.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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