Yom Kippur for Shul-Haters

How do you confess to a sin without believing in sin?

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This year’s school calendar arrived in the mail. We noticed that they hadn’t included any teacher days off for “professional development.” While that ostensibly meant less of a need for Monday afternoon childcare, Regina and I still felt disappointed. We’d planned to take our son to Disneyland on his September free day. At California amusement parks, only a mid-week non-holiday ensures short lines and crowds that won’t explode your brain. Now, with school meeting nearly every day in fall, Regina tried to find an acceptable substitute. 

disneyland

Pollack will not go to Disneyland

on Yom Kippur.

“We could take him on Yom Kippur,” she said.

I reacted immediately, with maximum emotional violence.

“Are you out of your mind?” I said. “You can’t go to Disneyland on Yom Kippur!”
   
“Why not?” she said. “It’s open.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But it’s Yom Kippur! That’s just not appropriate.”

“Come on. You hate Yom Kippur. You don’t do anything on Yom Kippur.”

“That’s not the point! Would you take Elijah to Disneyland on Easter?”

My wife, if you hadn’t guessed, isn’t Jewish.

“I might,” she said.

“Well, that’s your mishegas,” I said. “Under no circumstances would I ever go to Disneyland on Yom Kippur.”

“Fine,” she said. “Elijah and I will go, and you can stay home by yourself and atone for your sins.”

“Or commit some,” I said.

“My point exactly.”

*****

It wouldn’t be fair to call me a non-observant Jew. I lead my extended family’s first-night Passover seder every year. When we light Hanukkah candles, I force my half-breed to sing Maoz Tzur. I belong to Jewish cultural organizations and mailing lists and know the meaning of the phrase tikkun olam. Certain scenes in Barry Levinson’s Avalon bring me to tears. But when it comes to the High Holidays, and, in particular, Yom Kippur, I’m about as Jewish as the guy behind the counter at my neighborhood bodega.

Yom Kippur Memories

My childhood High Holidays were dreary, context-less affairs, performed at a downtown Phoenix theater-in-the-round, featuring a drippy slideshow of various nature scenes accompanied by a recording of Cat Stevens singing Morning Has Broken. No one ever revealed to me how that symbolized Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, but clearly, someone at Temple Beth Israel liked Cat Stevens. Eventually my father, raised to believe that synagogue meant something more than low-fi entertainment, had enough of this Reform community. We switched to the Conservative services, which were even worse. At least the Reform services had cute girls and nice cushioned seats. At the Conservative services, you could barely hear the rabbi over all the snoring.

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Neal Pollack is an American satirist, novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His books include The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, Never Mind the Pollacks, Beneath the Axis of Evil, and Alternadad.

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