Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the holiest twenty-four hours of our Jewish year. It’s Christmas Mass plus 23 hours. It officially signifies the end of the ten day period known as the Days of Awe which began with Rosh Hashana a week ago Friday. It’s a time for serious introspection of our life, flaws and frailties as the Hebrew calendar moves to 5784. The real significance of the year 5784 is it’s now been 3,814 years since the Jets won the Super Bowl, dating all the way back to the prehistoric era of 1970.
Yom Kippur is a no-kidding-around High Holy Day holiday when Jews ask the Almighty for forgiveness of sins committed, past and future. From sundown tonight to sundown Monday night we abstain from food, drink and sex. Probably gambling too. Anything that’s fun. We cleanse ourselves trying to show the Almighty we are serious about our ask.
Technically while the holiday is Yom Kippur, the evening tonight is known as Kol Nidre, interpreted to mean “all vows.” It’s proactive because Jews seek annulment from any personal or religious oaths or prohibitions that are not upheld during the next year. Leave it to the Jews to ask for forgiveness for sins we haven’t even committed yet. It’s the ultimate umbrella policy.
It’s also the most important night of the year for a synagogue president, of which I’m one. It’s not our most important responsibility, which based upon my congregation’s demands seems to be making sure we have sugar-free cookies available to nosh after a typical Friday night worship service not to mention double-checking that all the urinals flush. Also, if there appears to be a speck of paint chipping off a wall I’m expected to carry some spackle and a putty knife. I’m Jewish, what do I know from spackle or putty knife?
Tonight, across the world, as long as the restrooms are properly stocked with paper towels, synagogue presidents will deliver to their congregants an address knows as the Kol Nidre Appeal. It’s not the Emancipation Proclamation but to temple operating budgets, it’s more important.
The KNA, for most temples, is their largest fund raiser of the year. That holds true for us at Temple Sinai, west of Las Vegas in Summerlin. Hypocrisy reigns supreme on a night where you can’t eat, drink or schtup but you can raise money. Leave it to the Jews to rationalize that one.
The New York Times, a newspaper some of you old timers might remember, says the Kol Nidre Appeal began in America in 1916, during the height of WWI, at Temple Emanu-El in New York. Rabbi Joseph Silverman appealed to his congregation to do all within their power to aid Jewish war sufferers. Word spread and other synagogues around the country did the same thing the next year. Congregants participated generously. Jews figured they were on to a good thing so even though the war ended, the Appeal has not and has become a staple in synagogues every year on this night. Somewhere along the line the responsibility of the address became that of the temple president and not the rabbi. I liked it the other way.
Tonight’s Appeal, my second and final one, marks the beginning of the stretch run of my two-year term as president. I never had any aspirations of being a temple president and only became the choice because nobody else in our congregation wanted to do it. It only took a week to see why. How was I to know to expect an email barrage that the sinks weren’t draining properly or there isn’t enough handicapped parking, or the synagogue was too cold. Or maybe too warm. Or being at a Raiders game and getting an emergency phone call that some kids from the religious school just pulled the hinges off a bathroom door. Okay, I’ll be right there with my toolkit. I’m Jewish, what do I know from a toolkit?
Last Kol Nidre my Appeal wasn’t too marvelous. My remarks lasted about 20 minutes, and some complained it was too long. In fact, most did. If tonight’s runs five minutes, which it won’t, some will complain it was too long. We are Jews and we love to complain about everything; it’s our national pastime. Tonight, during my address, some of the congregation will pay attention, probably very few; most others will either watch the Raiders-Steelers on their phones or more likely than not, just doze and fantasize about eating once again at 6:45 pm tomorrow night. We are a congregation with about 600 members and 601 opinions. We are Jews and one of our mantras is to disagree about everything.
Monies from the Appeal are crucial to our budget which is funded annually by membership dues, contributions, special events, federal, state, local and community government grants and Kol Nidre Appeal pledges. The two years before I became king, the Appeal was double what I was able to produce last year. I hoped and privately prayed that my miserable showing would be cause for impeachment, but no such luck. The congregants decided to get even with me and make me serve my second year. I hate when that happens.
This evening I will plead not only with the Almighty, but with our growing congregation for redemption. I will ask the Lord for personal repentance for, among other things, being a Jets fan; for giving myself three foot putts; for being cynical about pickleball; for never trying asparagus and for taking Andi last week to see the highly touted but awful show band called the Bronx Wanderers. I will ask the congregation to help me recover from my dreadful Appeal of a year ago and be generous. If they’re not, there’s no further punishing me to stay another year. In fact, just in case, I’ve already written something original that starts with, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept…”
So, we’ll begin our 24-hour fast tonight right before sundown eating like it’s a free buffet at Bellagio. Then 24 long hours of no food, no drink, just praying and hoping for redemption from sins and transgressions. Kol Nidre eve turns in Yom Kippur day. We break the fast at sundown Monday, normally in communal fashion, with more elbows flying to get to the bagels, lox and cream cheese than in a typical NHL game.
I’m sure she won’t mind me telling this story, but if she does I can add it to my transgressions list for redemption. The religious power of Kol Nidre/Yom Kippur was illustrated for me and a young lady I was courting back in 1989.
Andi, a Southern Baptist growing up in Kentucky, was living in Iowa at the time. I was traveling the country on business based out of Birmingham, Alabama. That night, Kol Nidre, I was in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about a three-hour drive for Andi. When she arrived at my hotel I told her it was Yom Kippur, our holiest night and day. She never heard of it. And I was going to synagogue, not dinner. Intrigued, she asked to join me. The service at Kenosha’s Beth Hillel Temple was beautiful and inspirational. The Kol Nidre Appeal by its president was much like mine last year, forgettable.
When we got back to the hotel room Andi got frisky. Really, I couldn’t blame her. After all, she was with me. When I gently pushed her away and said “Not on Kol Nidre” she looked at me like I was kidding. Rules are rules. She was not too happy.
Andi fell in love with the religion that night and five years later, after we had been married for three, she converted to Judaism.
Now, some 34 years after that evening in Wisconsin, in the ultimate form of spousal retribution, every night in our house is Kol Nidre.