Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Yom Kippur Redux

October 5, 2014

Yom Kippur Redux

Finally, the following afternoon, I’m beginning to recover from Yom Kippur. It was very successful. Some people apparently walked an hour in each direction to participate in our services. I was extremely humbled by this effort. We had record crowds for each of the three highlights (Kol Nidrei, Yizkor and Neila) – I estimate around 800 for the first two and perhaps close to one thousand for Neila, including about 100 children that joined me on stage for the end of Neila. The synagogue was full and stirring with energy.

More people stayed longer, and there seemed to be a significant number of younger people than the previous year. I spoke throughout the day. I interrupted the Hazan approximately every ten minutes with introductions and explanations as to where we were or what we were doing in the prayer or Torah reading. We also skipped a lot of the liturgy as I wrote about before. That was besides the three major sermons and conducting a 3-hour question and answer session during the break. I also had to read the Torah, Haftara, Sefer Yona and serve as Gabbai and page announcer. At some points during Minha and Neila I thought I would faint or collapse. Some divine spirit kept me going, gave my mind inspiration to address the congregation and my voice strength to reach the rafters.

I was happiest about involving the children in the recitation of the final verses before blowing the shofar. Second to that was having successfully gotten the Hazan and the choir to sing my favorite Yom Kippur song, Mare Kohen. Noise throughout the day was down to a bare minimum, I think mostly because of my interruptions and an extreme preoccupation to keep things moving and interesting. It probably didn’t hurt that I invited talkers to leave, and threatened to ask them personally if they persisted in talking. A few probably remembered that I kicked them out the previous year. Just eying them this year was enough. I announced the upcoming Shabbat Project before each sermon.

I have also been blessed with the friendship and presence of Bernardo Olesker, one of the great community leaders and the acknowledged “greatest orator of the community”. He sits in the front row and always gives me valuable feedback on my talks. When he compliments me, I know I’ve done well. When he asks for a repeat of something I’ve said, I know I’ve struck a chord. He particularly liked my Yizkor talk where I permitted people whose parents weren’t dead to stay in and to say liturgy for grandparents, martyrs and other loved ones. I asked not only what memory we had of our ancestors but what memories we would leave our descendants and to consider who would be saying Yizkor for us. That seemed to move a number of people.

Many more people were praying, focusing in the Machzor, turning the pages, beating their chest, responding when I waved my flag and in general participating and being a part of the service, as compared to last year. A cellphone did not ring once throughout the day – repeated warnings probably helped as well.

However, right after Yom Kippur, my brain synapses finally burnt out. I could no longer answer simple questions, contemplate any decisions or pronounce more than monosyllables (no Mom, don’t worry – it wasn’t a stroke or anything of that kind). In our cab ride from the hotel (which due to a last minute glich, we were upgraded to) to our wider Spitz family Break-Fast, I contemplated a career as a taxi driver as a suitable aspiration for my mental and decision-making capacities. I was feeling extreme Decision Fatigue.

However, overall, it was really good. Thank God.

Now I’m looking forward to my next big and totally different event. I’m giving a lecture to over 300 South American engineers on my thoughts on Reliability Engineering, featuring movie clips from Armageddon and I Love Lucy…

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