It was worth getting up at 7:45 in the morning (a time normally too early for me to be out in public) on Friday, September 29, 2017 (or the 9th of Tishrei, 5778 by the reckoning of the Jewish calendar), to catch the train from New London’s Union Station. The reason: For the first time since senior year of high school, I was going to be home for Yom Kippur. I wanted to arrive in Springfield, Massachusetts, early so that I would be home well before the beginning of the holiday at sundown.
Yom Kippur is the most important day of the Jewish year. It’s a day when Jews worldwide strengthen their connection to God, themselves and their communities through fasting, prayer and reflection. As a Jew, I take Yom Kippur very seriously, and every year I devote this day in my life to the rituals prescribed to it. When I was in middle and high school I enthusiastically developed a routine of attending many hours of Yom Kippur services at my synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, Massachusetts, and became immersed in my synagogue’s traditions through this observance.
Since coming to Conn, where classes are always canceled on Yom Kippur, I’ve been exposed to many different ways of observing the Jewish holidays through Hillel House and the local Jewish community. Having these experiences has required me to adapt my own level of observance. On Yom Kippur during my first year here I went to evening and morning services at Zachs Hillel House, which combined several different strands of contemporary Jewish tradition, and a concluding service at Congregation Beth El on Ocean Avenue in New London, which was more in line with the type of service conducted at my synagogue in Northampton. This was one of my earliest experiences in college with Jewish traditions for the holidays that varied from the ones I was raised with.
This year, I decided to return to my hometown synagogue to try to see whether I would find some sort of spiritual difference between observing the day there versus at Conn. I didn’t, but going home was still worth the journey. Throughout middle and high school I always wondered if there was a perfect way to observe Yom Kippur. Now I’ve come to acknowledge that there isn’t. As a sacred day that has a strong theme of reflecting on our own imperfections as human beings, it’s not a day that I believe can be observed in a perfect form. We have to observe Yom Kippur in whatever way the community we choose to be a part of for that day wants to observe it. Being in college and having the freedom to travel where I want to on Yom Kippur has helped me experiment with all sorts of ways of observing the day, and see what I like and don’t like about them. I’m glad to be able to grow through varying my experiences every year in observing this most sacred day.