Remember how, as children, we used to look forward every year to High Holiday services? All the fond memories we have of the long hours sitting listening to the rabbi preach and the cantor sing. Don’t you just miss the days when we didn’t want to leave the sanctuary to go out and play; instead choosing to sit through the entire service, without looking at the clock even once, because we knew this is where we ought to be?
Of course, for someone living in an alternative universe these may indeed be his or her childhood memories. For the rest of us, the extent of our looking forward to the High Holidays was the extra few days off from school. And when Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur was on a weekend, the thrill was diminished even more.
So, one would think, after having grown up and matured to the stage where we make our own decisions and our parents no longer drag us to services against our wills, attending High Holiday services would be a thing of the past. But, surprisingly, quite the opposite is true. Not only do we consistently go to synagogue; we are sure to take our children along, even if they’re kicking and screaming all the way to the Bimah.
Why is that?
If you’ve attended Chabad’s High Holiday services in the past, you may have already heard the following story from me:
A journalist was once taking a survey about people’s faith in a Supreme Being. He decided to visit the houses of worship of several major religions.
On a Sunday morning he joins the people waiting to enter a church. While in line he strikes up a conversation with a fellow parishioner and midway through the conversation he asks “Tell me, do you believe in G-d?”
“Of course,” was the response. “After all, I am on my way to church.” Fair enough.
On Friday, our journalist visits the local mosque and poses the same question and receives a similar answer. “Of course, I believe in G-d! Why else would I be praying?” Again, asked and answered.
Finally, on Yom Kippur he visits a synagogue where he meets a Jewish person. In answer to the inquiry as to whether he believes in G-d, the Jew begins stammering. “Um, I don’t know, maybe. Depends what your definition of ‘believe’ is. And what do you mean by ‘G-d’?”
The journalist asks, “If you aren’t sure you believe in G-d, why are you here?”
“What do you mean?” retorts the Jew. “It’s Yom Kippur!”
Humorous as this story might be, and indeed it may not explain why we continue attending High Holiday services year in, year out, it does bring to light one vital point:
We’ve all had a time in our lives that our observance may have been less than desired. It may be due to simple neglect on our part, or we’ve had that moment where we’re angry at G-d and question His actions. At times one might even go as far as declaring himself atheist and a non-believer. And given the troubles some people do suffer, who are we to question their relationship with G-d?
But, a Jew remains a Jew even when his or her faith waivers. Regardless of our professed beliefs, and irrespective of our congregational affiliation or background, deep down our Jewish soul is alive and well.
The Jew within each and every one of us is what has kept us together as a nation and alive as a people. We may not even be aware, but each and every one of us truly does believe in G-d; and that’s why we’re still here.