Judaism is not a solo act. Although each of us definitely has a unique relationship with The Creator, our covenant is as a member of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. The same weekly day is Shabbat for all of us and the Chaggim occur on the same day each year for each of us, no matter where we live (with the exception of Second Day Chag in the Diaspora), what we believe or how we choose to participate. Yom Kippur, for example, is, and always has been, characterized by fasting, just as Sukkot is centered around the experience of leaving the comfort and security of our permanent homes and dwelling a fragile, temporary Sukkah for a week.
Ironically, since I’ve returned to live in Jerusalem several years ago, health has moved me out of the group of people who are able/halachically-allowed to fast (on Yom Kippur or any other day) and my apartment for the last three Sukkots has had no possibility for my own Sukkah! Imagine that after almost thirty years of fasting and “religiously” building and, as much as was possible in Autumn Seattle, sitting in my Sukkah, longing to fulfill these Mitzvot once again in Yerushalayim, I can’t.
I’ve been forced to recalibrate how to authentically participate in these primal Jewish yearly experiences. Without the central observances of each of these two Chaggim, how do I, nonetheless, incorporate them into my spiritual, social and physical life, and how to I include myself in the Jewish body politic when I am so out-of-phase with everyone who surrounds me?
At this point, after a couple years of these challenges, I must say thay I don’t have a very satisfying answer for myself, at least not one that would have any possibility of working for me if I were still in living in Galut, the Diaspora. One consideration which contributes my current situation is that to be fully immersed in Jewish culture and community here, I merely can find a bench on a sidewalk and enjoy the Jerusalem sun on my face as I’m enveloped by the current of Jews walking/driving/bicycling/scootering down the road. Religious or secular, I’m part of a society where a high percentage of people, regardless their level halachic conformity, have family dinners every Friday night, who restrict their eating on Yom Kippur, one way or another, who will, at least if convenient, duck their heads inside a Sukkah, at least on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant this week and will probably even make the blessing, l’Shev b’Sukkah, to sit in a Sukkah with a smile and sense of satisfaction, even if they do it only once or twice the entire week.
How can I, despite my own observance restrictions–and don’t we all, no matter how “observant” find ourselves at least somewhat restricted or self-restricting, opting paritally-in, partially out, throughout our lives?–not feel an integral part of not only Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, but also Torat Yisrael, our complex, intricate and infinitely beautiful religious tradition and practice?
Moadim l’Simcha and Shabbat Shalom