It’s bedtime when I make the discovery. My oldest son is already tucked under the covers, reading the Almanac, while I’m going through his drawers to pick out clothes for the next day. I know I should let him take this task over, but for some strange reason, I enjoy it. Besides, I’ll pretty much do anything to make our morning routine a little less hectic. Knowing that my children have mom-approved outfits ready to go helps me sleep a little bit better.
“Mom, come look at this. They have Hanukkah down as one of the major Jewish holidays, even though it isn’t,” my son says.
My children attend Jewish day school, and I admit to relishing these moments when I get a glimpse of the knowledge they are gaining there.
I peek over at the Almanac to see what he’s talking about, and indeed, Hanukkah is included among the heavy hitters: Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur. This being the Almanac, the list contains a calendar for each holiday over the next four years. And that’s when I see it. The date smacks me in the face, startling me and stinging me like a stubbed toe.
“I’m sorry, I just need to get a closer look,” I tell him, plucking the cumbersome book out of his hands.
I stare at the page, but the words don’t change. They boldly broadcast the date of Yom Kippur 2015–September 23. AKA: my 40th birthday.
This isn’t the first time my birthday falls on Yom Kippur. It happened on my 21st as well. If it were my 22nd birthday or my 41st birthday, I probably wouldn’t give it much thought. In the scheme of things, having my birthday on Yom Kippur isn’t that big of a deal, I know. But a milestone birthday makes me want to do something a little extra special to mark the rite of passage.
Life gives us such little opportunity to focus on ourselves, our birthdays are like a built in free excuse to take even the tiniest bit of unapologetic down time. Yom Kippur, with its all day fasting and praying, isn’t exactly ripe for that sort of thing, never mind a celebration.
I proceed to spend the next year telling anyone who will listen that my 40th birthday is on Yom Kippur. It’s not as if I can change the situation, but sometimes talking leads to accepting, so I forge ahead to find a sympathetic ear whenever possible. It gets to the point where I have the following conversation with more than just one friend:
ME: “Speaking of the high holidays, I know the whole Jewish calendar next year because my 40th birthday is on Yom Kippur.”
FRIEND: “I know. You already told me.”
My friends are always sympathetic, even if they’ve heard it before. Yet clearly I need another outlet for dealing with my disappointment about this disappointing calendar coincidence. I start pondering what lemonade I can make with these lemons. Cue the lightbulb over my head. Maybe, I think, having my 40th birthday land on Yom Kippur is a sign from above for me to organize a shindig to ring in my new decade.
“It’s kind of like a sanctified soiree,” I tell my husband. Large gatherings centered on me are not usually my style, but it is fun to plan a birthday party that doesn’t involve snacks of Pirate Booty and Veggie Straws. We sign the contract for a venue, send out the Evite and solidify details. All the planning distracts me, but only for a short while. Something still nags at me. Even the prospect of a big bash doesn’t ease my angst as the birthday and high holidays draw near.
I finally find the solace I’ve been seeking during a two-week free write class. My words pour out onto the page, and they lead me down a path to my epiphany. I realize how beautiful, how holy it is to enter this new decade on a day when my family, my friends, my people come together to repent, to forgive, and to seek forgiveness from others and from God. The fasting part isn’t fun, that’s true. Being in synagogue all day is certainly not ideal for a birthday celebration. But when I think about the meaning of Yom Kippur, and the self-reflection it inspires, I actually feel blessed that I get to infuse it with this milestone moment in my life.
40 is an age of taking stock. A time when we look back at what has been, consider what we want the future to look like, and try to figure out what we can do to shape it. If any birthday syncs with Yom Kippur, it is the big 4-0.
Besides, my children’s day school attendance will come in handy yet again. The first bell rings late the day after Yom Kippur, allowing families to fully observe the holiday and share a break the fast meal together. I’ll be 40 when I wake up that morning, but my inner teenager still lurks about, and she’s always grateful for a little extra sleep.