“Are you going to go to Rosh Hashanah services?” my sister asked me on the phone last week, and my gut instantly churned. Not because I’m now separated by the Atlantic Ocean from my family on the Jewish New Year, but because: a.) I had forgotten about it and b.) I didn’t feel like dealing with it.
“It’s tomorrow? And what year is it in Jewish anyhow? 18 million or something? I didn’t really make any arrangements. Maybe I’ll just fake going to services so mom and dad don’t freak.”
“I know you’re not religious, but aren’t you at least afraid of the wrath of mom?”
“I’ll repent for it a week later on Yom Kippur.”
Every year, when Yom Kippur, the day of repentance rolls around, I reluctantly put on a conservative pencil skirt, pack into the family Subaru, and fast for a day. At least I’ll lose a little weight, I think. Because why would I need to repent? I’m a good person. I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t seriously offended any of my friends or family. I eat my vegetables. I even vacuumed under the bed. Once. OK, so maybe since I graduated from college two years ago and joined the “real world” I’ve become a bit more cynical and snappy. A touch self-righteous and a dash ruthless. But if these are the qualities which painted my potential atonement-worthy moments in the past year, must I feel sorry for them?
After all, trying to make it in a big city and achieve success at a young age feels like the norm for twenty-something women. And to get there, sometimes you have to be a bitch. To say, “well if she was just a bit nicer,” doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Nice girls are passive; mean girls get ahead (well, maybe not in Lindsay Lohan movies), become CEOs, and own their own apartments. And when the man you date gets out of line, you can cruelly cut him down to size, deprive him of sex, and become his manipulative ice queen to get what you want (hopefully). Isn’t this what feminism is supposed to be about? Well, not to hate men, but to choose your choices and act as you wish? Sinning, it would seem, can actually be quite sexy.
Not that my entire life is dictated by this cutthroat attitude, but now I ask myself if in it there’s room for remorse and regret. Would I take back the times I trash-talked a girl behind her back in order to bond with another woman? What about blowing off plans with friends to go to fancier events where I planned to network? What bad has come of living like this sometimes?
For the first time ever, I researched Yom Kippur (and by “research,” I mean I spent an hour reading Wikipedia and About.com). Even after years of sitting in temple, I still didn’t understand the holiday’s details. What I found, however, seemed vague and general—applicable to any situation—and didn’t really satisfy my questions. On the way to services for Rosh Hashanah last week (I caved), I asked my friend Becca as we walked to the synagogue what types of sins she thought you’re supposed to atone for on Yom Kippur.
“Well, in my Hebrew school at a reformed congregation, we’re taught that the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ literally translates as ‘missing the mark.’ So it’s like Eh, I know I could have done this better. Plus, you’re asking for forgiveness, not to wipe away the past,” she explained.
“Right. I feel like, and not to be corny here, but that’s the type of stuff that makes you who you are, and makes your personality evolve,” I replied. “I’d never take back any of the messes I’ve gotten myself into or change how I’ve acted.”
“Well, there it is—you don’t have to.”
And FYI, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sunday, September 27. Just in case if, like me, you’ve had your mind elsewhere.