But the spirit is the main thing. Tb"a commemorates the Destructions of our Temple, as well as other Bad Things to happen to the Jews, such as the Crusades ("Let's stop off along the way to Jerusalem and massacre some Jewish communities, why don't we?" "Yeah!") and the Expulsion from Spain (took place actually *on* Tb"a.) There is also some Holocaust commemoration. Yes, I know there's Yom HaShoah, but this is a traditional date and the commemoration began they decided on a separate day. It's death and destruction and mourning, and a glimmer of hope that one day things will turn around.
Y"K is a celebration of hope, of spirituality, of the faith that HaShem *does* hear our prayers and our cries of repentence and responds positively to them. We are uplifted even as we suffer.
This year, my seat was next to the mechitza, the partition separating the men's and women's sections. Ours goes back to front. It meant I got a good view of the men's side through the lace curtain on top. And it's an amazing sight on Y"K - all the *white*. It's traditional to dress in white as symbolic for purity but also, I think, in imitation of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, who wore white garments on, and only on, Y"K. The married men, therefore, wear a white robe called a kittel, which they first received on their wedding day, and over it, they wear their prayer shawls. Never-married men, of course, wear neither, unless they are of German or Sphardi descent. Then they have the prayer shawls.
But here's the thing. Normally, the prayer shawls are only worn in the morning. Normally meaning 363 out of 365 days. The exceptions are Y"K and Tisha b"Av. On Tb"A, the men only put on their prayer shawls and phylactories for the afternoon prayers, not for the morning ones. Which is very weird indeed. Y"K being a holiday, they don't wear phylactories at all, but they wear the prayer shawl at *all* of the services - kol nidre, evening, morning, extra, afternoon and final. It's odd seeing a man wear one at night.
But they *do* look regal, especially when they wear the big prayer shawls.
Yes, there are six services to Y"K, as opposed to the normal three. And these are all longer than the normal ones. But then, what else do we have to do? We can't eat, we can't have sex, we can't watch television or talk on the phone or go to work. About all we can do is pray and sleep. The first is "kol nidre", which nullfies the unintentional vows we might have taken in the past year. Vows are a big thing that religious Jews tries as hard as possible to avoid. This is why there are no vows in the wedding service. Vows are too big. And so we have mechanisms to rid us of unintentional ones. Also, of intentional ones, but those require a court. Kol Nidre means "all vows" and the Aramaic words are sung to a lovely tune. This is also the usual time for a speech by the rabbi and an appeal for money. Tzedakah, "charity", but meaning righteousness, is a good thing in terms of repentence, so here's an opportunity. And synagogues all need money. Of course, we can't give it that night, or even write down anything, but there are ways, like a card with amounts on corners to be folded over.
Then we say the evening service, with extra verses in the long silent prayer and the first of the group confessions. That over, we go home to while away the next couple of hours before we go to sleep. We accidentally set our own timers to shut the lights extra early, but that proved to be a good thing.
The morning service is the morning service, with again the group confession at the end of both the silent and the extra long repeated long prayers. Then there is the Torah reading. And usually another appeal and speech by the rabbi, and then there is Yizkor, the memorial prayer for the dead. This is said on Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, the second day of Shavuot and the second day of the final holiday of Pesach. In Israel, where they do not observe the second day of holidays, it occurs on the only day.
Yizkor is traditionally said only by those who have lost a parent. Everyone else leaves the synagogue. My rabbi, who is a grandfather, gets to leave. I used to joke that the people who stay in got to eat something.
We don't, of course. I started saying Yizkor, with my parents' permission, before I had to. I said it for my grandparents because my parents didn't. My father was very already very ill on that last Shemini Atzeret, and I found myself wondering if I would be saying for real the following year. Turned out, no. Because you don't say Yizkor for someone until after their first Yarzheit, which would be the following day - he'd died 11PM the night of Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah follows right after Shemini Atzeret, as night follows day. Remember that the Jewish day begins at nightfall.
I said it that year anyway, because, well. I was already doing it, and when I asked my rabbi, he said I should. I just didn't say it for Daddy. That had to wait until the end of Passover.
Anyway, there wasn't a speech and only a brief appeal. And we keep Yizkor short. It was followed by the extra service. There's one on every Shabbat, New Moon and holiday. On the high holy days, they're very long indeed, but. What else did we have to do? The cantor, or chazzan, who leads Musaf is usually the "star" of the occasion. Shuls without a cantor will often hire one, and they will often do operatic turns with the tunes, putting on a real performance considering their lack of food and water.
Ours didn't do that. For which I am grateful, because I don't like that sort of davening. I prefer the simpler ba'al tefillah type of leading, which means he uses simple, familiar, singable tunes that get the congregation singing with him. Also, with ba'alei tefillah, it's not a performance. With good ones, you can tell they're praying and are taking their position as representative of the congregation, of those who cannot pray for themselves, seriously. My husband is one such, and he used to lead the morning services on the high holy days in our old synagogue.
Services, which began at 8AM, ended fairly early for Yom Kippur, at 1:30PM. This gave us a three hour break before the afternoon services. When I only had an hour or so, back in our old shul, I'd spend it there. No point in going home. We live a five minute walk away now, so we go home. And we read and we nap. Naps are good. They pass the time.
I got worried when we got back. See, it would be full dark at 7:20, but. There's a tendency to run out of service before you run out of holiday, and I was worried it would happen here, since the two final services - the afternoon service and Neilah, which only ever happens on Y"K - are short, even if we read the entire book of Jonah. Okay, we had a speech between the services and another brief appeal, but it was still worrisome.
Neilah is the final service. It's the last chance, before the day ends and the gates are closed. We stand, or try to stand throughout the last minutes. We're in desperation mode. And the prayers show it - final pleadings.
And then. The final shouts and the shofar blast - at the *dot* of 7:20 - and it was over. We had a fast evening service and a separation ceremony, and everyone went upstairs to have cake and orange juice. Except us, because we're not allowed either. Instead, Jonathan and I chugged (through straws) a can each of V8 juice, and I kept my friend Sharon company because she couldn't go upstairs anyway - she's in a wheelchair. She resented greatly that they didn't make arrangements for her and anyone else who couldn't use the stairs, such as an older couple. Someone gave her cake, and I helped her drink a cup of Pepsi, and we made arrangements for her and her husband to join us for dinner in our succah next Monday. I just hope it doesn't rain because then Wayne will have to carry her upstairs.
And that's it for Y"K.