Let’s start this with a bit of honesty.
I really don’t like going to temple.
Temple, especially when the high holy days roll around, presents too many distractions for me to feel like I’m having a meaningful experience. I find myself trying to remember the names of all of my mom’s friends in the National Council of Jewish Women (who remember me as a well-behaved baby), fiddling with the length of my tie, and dodging the scattered sneezes and sniffles of a Jewish community fighting the beginning of autumn.
I can’t focus. I pay attention to the Haftarah (cause I did that whole damn thang a couple of times!), the Rabbi’s sermon (depending on length), and read the meditations. I listen to the cantor as I listen to my music when working out: I enjoy the rhythm and the sound, but don’t pay any real attention to the words and inner meanings.
Yom Kippur is one of those times when I dread going to temple, specifically because of what Yom Kippur is about. On Yom Kippur, us Jews are supposed to pause and reflect, give thanks for what we have, and search within. At temple, in the midst of the crackling speakers, the people you know of but really don’t know and therefore have to make bad small talk with, and the length of the service make that tough for me.
Again, this is my personal opinion and thoughts, I understand that going to high holy day services is a completely different and super meaningful experience for others. I’m not hating, my own mother is this way.
So this year, I did something different. Rather than go find a temple and drudge through multiple hours of Hebrew that goes in one ear and out the other, I left town.
A couple of buddies and I packed up the car and headed north, to a place some say is one of the most spiritual on earth: Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is a place that aesthetically rivals any other, its rusty red mountains and clear blue skies are breathtaking. Instead of opening a book, I attempted to open my mind.
My friends and I locked down our Iphones, and instead had constant conversation as we scaled a mountain. Sometimes we stayed on the path, other times we veered off into the wilderness. At one point, we looked skyward, pointed out a large rock that jutted out of the rustic rock, and headed toward it, consequences be damned (sorry, mom).
It was oddly liberating. Perhaps it’s due to positive experiences with Judiasm in nature (big shout Camp Newman), but I felt much more in touch with Yom Kippur fending off cactuses and rock slides than listening to the Kol Nidre. Everything was clearer.
I was able to reflect on my year through talking to my friends, each a part of my life in their own way. We did a lot of reminiscing, looking back to when we all lived in a dorm, mere feet away from each other. Some of us had shorter hair, had never lived in another city before, or never eaten dining hall pizza three days in a row.
Another part of Yom Kippur is pausing and giving thanks. As I sat atop that rock, looking down at the vast valley below, I certainly had time to pause.
I did not give up food, as it probably would have resulted in an awful day for my friends. Instead, I gave up another form of sustenance for myself: sports. I didn’t watch a single live pitch of the Giants 18-inning win in the National League Division Series, nor did I see a live snap of ASU vs. USC. Giving up sports may have not given me the same pain in my stomach, but it was certainly a big break in my normal routine. It was different, and that’s really the core of a holiday.
Atonement is the central focus of Yom Kippur. I reflected on my actions throughout the last year, reliving decisions with clarity and a new perspective. This is essentially an exercise in hindsight, and this is where being in isolation really helped. I played out the past, discussed internally what paths I would have taken and what that would have meant for my present and future, and listed off occasions where I failed miserably, should have asked for some more help, or just came up a little bit short. Walking down the trail of my failures is something I would have struggled with inside a stuffy temple, but amid views like this, it was a much more efficient process.
Mountain hiked. Holiday experienced. Focus found.
And now, the photography of Scotty Bara: