At – One – Ment

Another way to look at atonement, which is the focus today for Jews around the world.

To atone for sins we have committed against our friends and family, against humanity.

To atone for sins we have committed against ourselves.

To atone for sins we have committed against God.

To atone in every way, we spend 24 hours reflecting and praying and pondering and wondering. How can I do better? What can I work towards? What is the goal? Am I being the best person I can possibly be?

Many Jews spend this time without eating, in a complete and total fast, no water, no food, until sundown tonight. Some refrain from wearing leather, from washing, from anointing (i.e. perfume), from intimate relations. So the reasoning goes, it’s to avoid distracting yourself from the matter at hand.

So be it.

But I ask you, don’t you ponder these questions on a regular basis? Wonder each day how you could do better, or if you should have said what you just did, or if you could be more patient?

I know I do. It’s not reserved for one day a  year, and while I believe it’s a nice tradition to lop it all into one long heavy day, it’s a bit much for me to take.

Eleven years ago, I was nine months pregnant with a 17-month-old little boy named Asher and fasting on Yom Kippur. I was religious then, in my long skirts and long sleeves, hair covered by hats. Asher fell sick to croup and we spent the night up late with him in the bathroom, the shower on as hot as it could go, building a blanket of steam.

Me holding Asher with Gigi looking on, approx. 12 years ago
Me holding Asher with Gigi looking on, approx. 12 years ago

Seeking more relief the next day, still fasting, still hugely pregnant, I walked him in the stroller around and around the neighborhood, with the hope that the cool fall air would open his lungs and settle his coughing. No matter, by 4 o’clock that day, I was at the Emergency Room with him, because the seal-like barking had gotten worse and I was scared.

I fasted until 7 p.m., at which point I ate something from a vending machine.

There is no glory in hurting oneself as penance. That is not what our religion teaches. There are many stories about why we fast, and many religions have their own tradition of fasting, so I won’t go into the details here. It’s not harmful to go without food for a day – in fact, it’s a cleansing that our bodies welcome.

I have never had any problem fasting. One can do what one believes in doing. I just don’t like it. I don’t like someone else telling me that on this day, I will do and I will feel as they say I should. I don’t like that fasting all day propels everyone to think and talk about food. I don’t like that we beat our chests and drop to our knees in woe-is-me atoning, and then go back to our ordinary ways as soon as the shofar sounds after sunset tonight.

But that’s not what this is about.

I started this blog with a way of looking at the word atonement. Breaking it up into at-one-ment. A rabbi posted this on Facebook and I admit, I’ve never looked at the word in quite that way.


When I practice yoga, the point is to connect my external self with my inner self, body with soul. So one would believe the process of atonement could be that achieving oneness with the self, truly pulling within and determine what it is to be who you are meant to be, to be that better person, to shave away the outer layers of fear and insecurity and not-good-enough-ness and send your true self out into the world.

It occurs to me often that the people who are bitchy, sneaky, conniving, and mean are not at one with themselves. They are not happy, not secure, not content. They are hurting. And so they hurt others.

If being at one with the Self means to live in peace, to go out into the world with a goal of peace, to see peace and love in every being, then I say bring it on.

Last week, I watched a woman greet people from her booth at a trade show with the most passion and happiness I’ve ever seen from a business. She loved interacting with people. She loved talking about what she could do for them. It was genuine. And I knew that’s how I want to be, always.

Happy. Passionate. Serving others. Let me tell you what I can do for you, from the bottom of my heart.

I’m happy to say that before Yom Kippur began yesterday, my ex and I had a winding conversation in which he wished me a meaning and easy fast, and I wished him all the happiness in the world. We came close to coming close as co-parents, to shedding the acrimony and unpleasantness that has plagued our divorce. Perhaps in the new year, we can make it a reality. If we come from our highest, most content selves.

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