Having been assigned a task, which is to give you, the reader, the Jewish perspective, I realize that that’s not nearly so easy as it sounds. There’s an old joke among Jewish people that if you put two Jews together in a room, ask them a question and come back later, you’ll get at least six different opinions on the answer! We are circumspect people who hold learning and intellect in high esteem. So, can I give you The Jewish perspective? Highly doubtful. A Jewish perspective? Perhaps. This Jew’s perspective? Highly likely!
In this life I have experienced many loves, but the one from which I draw my strength is my connection to, and my profound need for, the mountains. I was raised but a few minutes drive from the Catskill Mountains of lower New York, and but a few hours from the Adirondacks in the northern end of the state. From my home I could see the mountains every day; from the mountains I could draw my strength and security. That bond is still powerful, for just as Moses went to Mt. Sinai to connect with G-d, so I still go to the mountains to connect with my spiritual self and renew. They are, as Carlos Castaneda wrote, my place of power. My passion for the mountains is so great and so deep that if I cannot be in them for even a short time, a piece of me dies.
Every year, on the first weekend in October, my husband and I travel into the Appalachians of North Carolina, where we spend a long weekend in Brasstown, at the John Campbell Folk School’s Fall Festival. There we burrow deeply into the comfort of decades-long friendships and the music we have shared for all those years. There I am at peace in a place of power. There I draw enough strength to carry me through another few months away from my spiritual home.
This year, Yom Kippur, what most Jews consider to be the holiest of holy days, falls on the very weekend when we should be going to North Carolina, and I am caught in one of the most serious dilemmas I can ever recall. Do I go or do I stay? Yom Kippur is part of the Jewish New Year and is our Day of Atonement, the day on which we ask forgiveness for all our sins of the previous year, even those we did not mean to commit, and even those we did not know we committed. We also ask G-d to re-inscribe us in the Book of Life for yet another year. It is a very solemn day of prayer and fasting.
Judaism has clear expectations of those who believe. There are commandments that regulate one’s behavior for everything. In fact, there are 613 of these commandments, not just the basic ten. Some of the most important commandments are to be kind to your fellow man and to preserve life at almost all cost, unless that means losing another life in the saving of the first. Some of the commandments tell us how to worship. There are numerous other tenets to Judaism to be sure, but these are some of the most basic. I specifically cite the preservation of life because it is believed that all other commandments, or mitzvah, as they are called, may be set aside, if the preservation of life is at stake. By not going to the mountains on Yom Kippur I will be delivering a self-inflicted death blow to my spirit. But if I do not go to Temple to worship in the prescribed manner, is my spirit safe? Will I be re-inscribed in the Book of Life? May I set aside the requirement to worship as commanded, to preserve my strength and power? Does that satisfy the preservation of life principle of Judaism?
I’m not sure. I have yet to discuss it with my Rabbi but what I’m really thinking about doing is gathering some of my Jewish friends together in a room, asking this question, and seeing how many different opinions they give me when I come back later…
– Emily Horn Kelly
Emily was raised by extremely liberal parents in the lush and gorgeous Hudson Valley of New York where she was always in sight of inspiring mountains. Her formal education took her travelling all over the world at a youngish age and instilled in her a great love of different cultures and diversities, both tangible and philosophical. She has enjoyed more than one profession, including that of being a chef, and has cooked for presidents and governors alike. She has lived in Alabama since 1989, though she longs for a cooler climate. Presently she resides in Sheffield, with her beloved husband, Tim, and two very old cats, and near her now-grown, delightful son, Dylan.
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