I remember Yom Kippur without kids, back in the day when you just worried about where you would eat before and after the holiday. Suffice it to say that Yom Kippur with kids is a struggle–it’s tough to make it contemplative and meaningful. Sometimes it is even tough to make it at all. Please, allow me to take you through my Yom Kippur of Chaos.
You see, we belong to two synagogues, one of them close to our home in New Jersey and the other in New York. We both love the High Holiday services for the shul we belong to in New York: the music, the attentiveness of the congregants, the active participation of the crowd are all unrivalled, and impart beautiful spirituality. So we go there for High Holidays each year. Hey, I know some fellow suburbanites who go into “the city” for a doctor. Consider this a religious checkup. But that being said, it does mean compromises–like having a 26-27 hour fast. Good times.
Yom Kippur–A Breakdown of the Day
4:30 a.m.: Baby G wakes up. She has spots all over her chin but no temperature and has been struggling for the past day or so with what her doctor says might be Coxsackie. She is in a great mood, though, and insists (through pointing) that we read, play, etc. to greet the rising of the sun and her brothers.
7 a.m.: Everyone is dressed and ready to go, though we won’t be going for another hour. We have the first fight of the day when I tell the boys that Xbox is an inappropriate way to spend Yom Kippur and it’s off limits today, as is the television. Inexplicably, Kid 2 decides it will be fun to sing “Jingle Bell Rock” over and over again as a subtle form of torture for me.
8:45 a.m.: We get out of the car. One of the boys is terrified of a movie coming out imminently and freaks out every time he sees an ad on a cab, a building, or a bus stop. This is much to the other brother’s delight, who goes out of his way to point out said advertisements. I mention that this isn’t really in the spirit of the day. He stops but I see him snickering.
9 a.m.: We are sitting in our seats at adult services. I tell the boys they can’t break out any of their “supplemental reading material” (PJ Library books and other books with Jewish content) until after we come back to the adult service from the children’s service, which starts at 10:30.
9:20 a.m.: I’m asked if we’d like to have the fifth aliyah. This is a huge honor.
10:30 a.m.: We have our aliyah. The boys are intrigued by the inside of the Torah. “Why are we learning vowels in Hebrew school if it has no vowels?” “Why do some women wear tallises and others don’t?” “Why would killing a goat make your sins go away?” The fountain of good questions has been opened.
10:45 a.m.: We leave to go to the family service. I tell Jon to stay at the adult service for Yizkor (memorial service) and I’ll take the boys myself. We get a cab to the family service location. In the cab, helpfully enough, is a video ad for the Terrifying Movie. One brother sobs as the other brother laughs semi-maniacally.
11 a.m.: We get to the family service…just in time for Yizkor. I am superstitious and don’t want to be inside the sanctuary for this service so we find a bench in the middle of Broadway, where the boys eat the lunches I have prepared for them. One of the boys does so with his eyes closed so as to not see any ads for the Terrifying Movie. I feel the unholiday-like sensations of impatience, annoyance, and irritation.
12:45 p.m.: The kids’ service is over. We return to the adult service. The boys break out their sanctioned books, including The Brick Bible, a depiction of the Old Testament entirely in Lego. It is extremely detailed. The boys particularly like the gory descriptions of deaths of esoteric biblical figures.
1:45 p.m.: One of my kids asks me, “Has anyone ever died because they were in services too long?” I tell him no. He thinks it over and then tells me that that information is probably true for adults but not so for kids. Nice.
2:15 p.m.: Services end until mincha/maariv (afternoon/evening services) later in the day. “It’s over? My prayers have been answered!” my younger son says, just a little too loud. Sigh. We go to get the car from the garage where we’ve parked it. The parking attendant tells us that the transmission has been leaking all day. This is splendid news.
3 p.m.: We get home. My father takes one look at Baby G, who runs to hug him from the sitter, and says, “I don’t think so, Spot.” Her face is now covered with red, ugly spots. So, I’m told, are her legs and butt.
3:15 p.m.: We go to the pediatrician, where baby G is diagnosed to have hit the skin blemish jackpot with both Coxsackie and impetigo. You can Google these both yourself (I don’t recommend Google images), but the punchline is that she will be an ugly festering mess for about a week. Did I mention the sores inside her mouth? Poor kid. “Have a happy holiday, guys,” the pediatrician says as we leave. I refrain from telling her it’s not that kind of party.
4 p.m.: Going to the pharmacy from the pediatrician, the car starts making a series of horrid noises. If I were to translate them into English, they would say, “I’m going to die a miserable death on the highway, leaving you high and dry without going to Neilah [the final service of Yom Kippur].”
4:45 p.m.: The two of us and the two boys are at the car dealership getting a loaner in exchange for our car, which is in critical condition. Between the doctor and the car dealer, I find the holiday feeling has somewhat dissipated. We spend the car ride discussing people we can pray for, including people we know who are sick or too little to pray for themselves. I make the point that, “I’m praying Baby G’s spots go away because they make her really scary looking,” is not the kindest way to convey concern for one’s sister.
5:30 p.m.: On the road to New York to make it back for Neilah. “You know what would be AWESOME, Mommy? If you had the baby TODAY.” Um…no.
6:15 p.m.: We park the car and run to the synagogue (one of us with closed eyes) where we get what may be the last three seats together. A single woman, judging the situation carefully, gives us her seat so we can sit together. I decide she is Elijah in disguise and thank her profusely.
6:30 p.m.: Neilah begins. The prayers, and the music, wash over me completely. The kids are reading the prayer book and paying attention. I am standing with my eyes closed, singing as the daylight outside fades away.
Obviously, this has not been the Yom Kippur of years past, where I could truly focus, contemplate and pray uninterrupted. But it is a new year, one in which I hopefully will welcome another new child into our lives, and one for which, in this one hour of peace, I am extremely grateful. Just before the shofar sounds, I apologize to God: “Sorry I wasn’t completely on task today. I think you understand. I’ll try to make it up to you this year. I promise.”
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