As I type this, today is Yom Kippur (יום כיפור), the highest holiday of the Jewish calendar. Its central theme is repentance and atonement, marking the end of the annual Days of Awe that begin ten days earlier on Rosh Hashanah (the Hebrew New Year). From Wikipedia:
According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to “seal” the verdict. During the Days of Awe, a Jew tries to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God (bein adam leMakom) and against other human beings (bein adam lechavero). The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt (Vidui). At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.
I’m not Jewish, but I live in Israel so I can experience it as an outsider who incidentally happens to be inside. It’s pretty great.
One amazing fact about experiencing Yom Kippur here in Israel is the total commitment of the population to its observance. While it’s legal to drive, or to keep your business / restaurant open, nobody does. Basically, people walk, bike, or scoot around on the streets and highways, or have little picnics in different parts of the city. During a 2-3 hour stroll tonight, around several of the most well-traveled parts of Tel Aviv, I saw roughly 10 total cars on the road. 10! And several of these were police vehicles just checking in.
And this is Tel Aviv, one of the most secular cities in the country with a very large international population. I get it, the Orthodox Jews are in synagogue, but where is everyone else?
This should be surprising because there are strong incentives for defectors against this tradition. In the US, That One Restaurant That Stays Open On A Holiday gets loads of business, but no such restaurant seems to exist here; I couldn’t find one, anyway. That One Bar That Stays Open would get tons of interest from secular people and tourists, who might (I imagine) joke about all this old “religion” stuff being useless. But no, not here. People here are into it. Coming from the US, where I can only imagine this kind of thing happening at the scale of small towns, I’m very impressed at the near-total commitment of the whole country.
While I’m living in Israel, I’m trying to absorb as much interesting or useful culture as I can, with the goal of self-improvement. As I said, I’m not Jewish, but some of the cultural aspects of Judaism are interesting and possibly worth incorporating in some form. Shabbat, or the Sabbath Day, is an example: it might be actually productive to take one day of the week away from work, to focus on family, or community, or tradition, or what have you. I try (though often fail) to at least stay off of social media during Shabbat.
I think of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah as sort of another chance at New Year’s Eve (on the Gregorian Calendar). You know, that time of the year when we all make promises to ourselves to be better, then follow through for a few weeks or a month before dropping back into our old ways. It makes sense to me to break up the year into more “New Year’ses”, that is, into more places to stop for a second and take stock of what might be improved in the future. The Jewish version emphasizes, rightly I think, atonement for past failures followed by a sense of rebirth and hope for the future. At bare minimum, I think, we could at least use both New Year’ses to build momentum for bettering ourselves rather than only January 1.
However, my personal take is that a month is roughly the right benchmark length of time: it’s a simple Schelling Point, and a month is both long enough to potentially enact real change and short enough to stick with it consistently without fail. Some say it’s long enough to learn a language at a beginner level (!!) or become a “fitness god” (??), but I say it’s better to start with small things and see how it goes.
I toyed with the idea of New Month Resolutions in the past, but didn’t follow through. (For this, I repent.) But this Yom Kippur, I’m starting anew: each month starting November 1, I’ll choose a Resolution to keep to each and every day, and report on the result at the end of the month. A few examples might be “Practice piano for 30 mins per day” or “Write in a gratitude journal each evening”. The basic idea is that the Resolution should be (a) big enough that it takes a focused effort to get it done (showering doesn’t count), and (b) small enough that one can expect to make real progress in 15-30 mins each day over the course of a month. If it sticks as a habit, then great; if not, no problem.
Play along from home if you want. 🙂
This first one will be practice, since I’ve missed the first 8 days of October already. I already meditate 10 minutes daily, but for my first resolution, I’ll up it to 20 minutes per day. Let’s see how it goes.
Starting October 9, until (at least) the end of the month, I will sit in meditation for at least 20 minutes each day.
Results and new Resolution will be given on or around November 1.