Day of Atonement

Last evening after our Worship Commission met I went into the sanctuary to experience worship of another kind, the service already underway.  About 100 members of the Little Minyan Jewish congregation were beginning their observance of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The congregation is in the Reconstructionist stream of Judaism – theologically and socially progressive while valuing traditional liturgy.  They use our space for their high holy days.  Their spiritual leader, Jessica Shimberg, gave an invitation to join them at any time.  I found a seat in the back as a cello and piano were playing a hauntingly mournful piece.  Everyone was standing.

In looking through their prayer book, I noted that one of the first prayers for Yom Kippur reads: “We accept into our midst whoever seeks to pray.  Whether righteous or unrighteous, all shall pray as one community.

The commentary below states: “This prayer has long been associated with the Hidden Jews – the Jews in Spain who converted to Christianity during the Inquisition and kept their Jewish faith hidden in order to survive.  This prayer allowed them to pray as Jews by forgiving the vows they had made to another religion.  What a deep resonance this interpretation has for gay and lesbian Jews who are living hidden, secret lives.  For those in the closet about their gay identity in their Jewish communities, and those in the closet about their Jewish lives in the gay community, this prayer recognizes the pain of hidden and split identities and offers the hope for integration and healing.”

By way of sweet coincidence, yesterday was also National Coming Out Day.  How wonderful that we are at the point in our culture where we can honor the journey of those who have come out to themselves, family, friends, and the wider community.  What a joy to be a part of a congregation that has had its own coming out process.  It’s also a time to remember that the journey remains a dangerous one for too many, and that a split identity sometimes serves as a form of survival in a hostile environment.

Because the Jewish day begins at sundown, Yom Kippur continues today, and the congregation is gathered here as I write.  On this day of At-one-ment may we repent of a religion of inquisitions, and embrace a religion of redemptive love.  May we recognize the pain of hidden and split identities, in ourselves and others, and receive hope for integration and healing.  May we redeem that within us which is polluted and toxic for the Living Water which sustains life and enables us to flourish.