I used to love Rosh Hashanah, and even Yom Kippur, when I was a kid. There was a sense of excitement as I saw so many new people come to our (Orthodox) shul all dressed up. They all looked so important and serious. (And as a teenager I used to love looking at and fantasizing about all the young women who came to our shul for the Holidays - not exactly the type of "observance" my Rabbi was talking about!)
In my twenties I already had moved out of my parent’s home but still came to my parent’s shul on the High Holy days out of a sense of obligation. But my heart was not in it. During this time I really did a terrible act. I was so hungry on the afternoon of Yom Kippur that I ate a piece of my mother’s gefilte fish. After the fast my mother saw the half bitten gefilte fish. She was so sure that I would not violate Yom Kippur she convinced herself that a burglar broke into our apartment and did not take anything except eat a piece of her gefilte fish! After that incident I never had the heart to eat on Yom Kippur again.
But now I almost dread the coming of the High Holy Days. You may wonder why. I think the reason is that I no longer am sure what the High Holy Days mean. When I was young, attending an Orthodox shul it was supposed to be about G-d judging us for past sins and deciding if we should live or die; or the type of year we will have. This was serious stuff- even if I never quite took it that seriously. Now that I am much older and attending a Conservative Synagogue you hardly hear this reason. I would venture most people calling themselves Conservative Jews do not believe it either- but are too polite to admit it.
So instead we hear from Rabbis and other leaders of the Movement that this time of the year is an opportunity to examine one’s life. Sounds good except I am not sure what that means. Is it something to do about not doing enough mitzvahs, or is it being a better husband, father, or friend, or is it changing careers, or doing more exercise and losing weight. It becomes a mishmash of religion, therapy, and self-help. I might as well go for therapy than attend synagogue. They both overcharge for their services - but for therapy I can at least get reimbursed from my insurance!
Besides, if I am any example, I doubt that people change all that much. In any case, do I need to fast for 25 hours to examine my life? If anything, fasting prevents me from examining my character. The only thing I am examining is my empty stomach and my headache. I have always thought that if we were allowed to drink water - or even better, coffee! - I could concentrate more. And who came up with the ridiculous requirement of standing the last two hours of Yom Kippur? Oh I know, if you do not feel well you can sit. Sure - and look like a weakling!
So this is my dilemma. I cannot even consider not observing Rosh Hashanah or ot fasting on Yom Kippur. But I am not sure why I am doing this - except that this is what I have done all my life.
That is what this Jew does. So, my resolution for this Rosh Hashanah is that I will pray for a good reason to pray on Rosh Hashanah.