A Yom Kippur Story

As I celebrated my first Yom Kippur last year, sitting among the congregation with longing in my eyes, I kept turning something over in my mind: could I really partake in the spirit of Yom Kippur when my heart still longed for someone’s forgiveness? When I still needed closure?

The questions became heavier this year, post-conversion, as I contemplated standing on the bima–beside the open Ark–on Yom Kippur. I knew I would not feel worthy of standing there anyway, but I felt especially unworthy because I still felt the need to make amends for that broken friendship.

The thought was bothering me so much that I did something scary. About ten days ago, I asked two friends for a big favor–to tell a former mutual friend (whom I had falling out with almost three years ago) that I’d like to talk to her. I did not think that she would reply in the affirmative,or maybe even that they would pass the message on at all–but I wanted to try to reach out to her one last time before I just wrote her and open letter and tried to move on with my life.

Lo and behold, last night I received an email from her stating that, while she believes she did the right thing in breaking off our friendship, she recognizes that she could have been more mature about it, is glad that our falling out did not push me away from Judaism… and she is willing to listen to what I have to say.

Relief flooded me last night as I read her words. The open, honest response was already more than I had expected… and the door it opened was more than I had dared hope for. Despite knowing that our friendship was irrevocably lost, I no longer felt the crushing sadness that had accompanied her name for so long. What did remain, though, was the responsibility I felt to make things some kind of right.

I spent most of today agonizing over what to write back. How could I convey almost three years of regret and longing? I loved her like a sister, once–I thought that we would be friends forever, holding each other up through the rough times. Through her I learned about Judaism and came to love Torah; I celebrated my first Passover as a guest at her family’s table. And I wanted to say so many things but I knew that I had to be careful–I had one shot to get it right, and only one.

With a few minor edits to protect her privacy, here is what I ended up sending:

First of all, thank you so much for being open to this–I know it’s been a long time since we’ve last spoken and that this is awkward, so I really appreciate the leap of faith. I also wanted to clarify expectations really quickly–I just have three big things that I need to get off my chest, and you’re welcome to respond if you feel moved to, but I’m 100% clear that you don’t owe me anything and that it’s already a big concession on your part to even be reading this.

1. I’m so very sorry.
It took me a long time to come to terms with everything that happened, or even to understand it–but I want you to know that I have come to realize how very self-centered I came off as in my last two years of college, but especially in 2010. I know it’s not much consolation, but I didn’t mean to be, and I often didn’t realize I was. I was legitimately delusional enough that this whole thing took me completely by surprise, and I think that’s why it hit me so hard. But anyway, intent is irrelevant when someone ends up hurt, so I am deeply sorry that things ever got to the point they did and ended in such a messy fashion.

2. Thank you.
When I got your last message, I was devastated, and I spent months rehashing it in my head. I remember being able to recite it from memory, and spending a long time punishing myself for it–and it wasn’t until that moment that it became apparent to me that I wasn’t having a normal reaction. So thank you for forcing me to wake up, to seek help, to get a diagnosis so I could put a name to the reason my life was spiraling out of control. If it hadn’t been for that message and my reaction to it, I don’t know if I would’ve returned to therapy, known that was living with depression, or gotten the tools I need to be able to function. Your (admittedly brutal) honesty saved my life, and I will always be grateful that you took the time to say why before walking out of my life. So, yeah, thank you.

3. May the one who blessed our ancestors bless you and your family, always.
Last year, I decided to stop lying to myself and called Rabbi–the one whose class I took the semester I experienced my first seder with you. And as I took on more mitzvot during the journey towards my conversion, you came to mind more and more often. It was your pride and love for Judaism that opened the door for me to set aside my preconceptions, and I don’t think I would have fallen in love with it had my first experience with Passover not been so wonderful. And this summer when I stood on the bima two days after the mikvah, holding the Torah for the first time and leading the congregation in the Shema (it’s in my Torah portion), I realized that I’d come very far on a road that you’d opened the gate for. So from the bottom of my heart I send my best to you and your family–it is due to your warmth and your embodiment of all the wonderful things Judaism has that I got to come home.

So that’s really what I wanted to say–and knowing that you were willing to hear/read it has finally made it possible for me to forgive myself for, well, fucking everything up. I will be able to light at the start of Kol Nidre tonight, and stand on the bima with the choir, with peace thanks to you. So thanks again, and I hope you have a meaningful and easy fast this Yom Kippur. L’shana tova to you and yours!

I am posting this, first and foremost, so that I can keep it for myself and remember this moment. Remember the leap of faith that we both took, and how it has been rewarded by finally achieving the closure I have longed for since I got that final message. But I also post this with the hope that, somewhere, someone who is not sure how to approach someone else to make amends can have the example–and know that, in some cases, the patience and the risk will be rewarded.

I don’t know that I will hear from her–I doubt it–but I find that it no longer bothers me. I have said what I needed to say, and I can finally close that chapter and return to thinking of her as I want to think of her–with fondness and a small measure of regret, remembering the good times without drowning in the bad ones.

And so I wish that you all find the peace you seek wherever you look for it–and may you be sealed in the Book of Life.

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One thought on “A Yom Kippur Story

  1. Pingback: On Modern Devotion. | Eliava Says

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