My Day of Atonement 2020


Last week, the non-newsletter usually sent the last Monday of the month didn’t go out as planned. Coincidentally, last Monday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a day, according to Leviticus 23:27, which is supposed to be a day of strict rest.

I fast, as is traditional. (Although I do drink water and brush my teeth.)

But, I don’t go to a shul—colloquial jew-speak for “house of prayer”—or even watch a digitized stream of services.

Instead, I follow my tradition—sitting in the backyard, attempting to be as mellow as I can. I do everything as slowly and deliberately as I can. Observing myself as I go.

This year, it is sunny and beautiful, 65 degrees of almost-autumn crisp air, so I’m enjoying the sunshine. Most years, I do just like I’m doing today, but from inside a tent that I’ve pitched in the backyard for protection from the cold.


Fade in on a female rabbi, white robe at the front of a congregation, welcoming people to Yom Kippur services. Cross-dissolve to a similar location, different rabbi. The words from one are picked up by another, and then we hear singing in the third and then fourth location. Similar, but different.

We fade to a kelly-green-walled, silver-topped, four-person tent in an overcast-gray backyard. The tune from the last congregation, but louder, is hummed in a man’s voice.

Inside the tent, seeing the back of a 50-year old man in an oversized, crocheted head covering, jeans, and thermal shirt. A large purple fleece blanket wrapped around him.

A buzzing and ringtone interrupt the music. He is editing by hand, with multiple colors, words on copy paper affixed to a clipboard. We can make out a few of the words: Leviticus 23:27, Yom Kippur, Atonement, Forgiveness.

The buzzing intensifies, and we see Rabbi Brian for the first time, looking flummoxed, trying to decide between continuing the thought process on the page or looking at the device. We see him reach under his leg to retrieve a phone, holding it an arm’s length away, as though he wants to distance himself from something potentially noxious.

We see the text: “Rabbi. Sorry for disturbing you. But these waves. The ups and downs. Up. Down. I’m down. Again angry at God. Why?! Don’t have to answer.

Warmth on his face as he pulls the phone in closer toward his body.

Two of his bluish-white from the cold fingers type out, “The waves are natural. That’s grief. You can’t control them. And, it sucks.”

The sound of the text being sent. As three dots indicate a response is coming in, we see a smile on his face. A twinkle in his eyes as we see him typing. The response chime sounds, and we see: “Thanks, Rabbi. Thanks for being there for me. Means the world to me.”

We hear the sent tone as we now see the text he was composing earlier: “Do you know what grief and a man masturbating on the bow of a ship have in common?”

Immediately a question mark response appears over the joke’s set-up.

We hear the sent sound again as he goes back to his writing, and we see his response, “They both come in waves.”


Gelassenheit is a rarely used German-loan word that means the state of allowing things to be as they are.

That’s my goal on Yom Kippur.

To just allow things to be as they are. To interfere as little as possible.

After all, in the Bible, Yom Kippur is called shabbat shabbaton, the sabbath of sabbaths.

In my backyard today—perhaps due to my choice of deliberate slowness—the birds are loud.

I wonder, how did I get here? How did all this happen?

Oh, how absolutely blessed I am.

My nine-month-old puppy lays on his back and surrenders fully, all legs in the air, and I give him a belly rub.

Oh, to accept the world as it is!

I marvel at the grain-of-rice-sized bug floating in the air, seemingly examining the top of my pen.

Oh, this beautiful world.

Let us remember to take some time to rest, to slow down—even amidst the craziness.

Let us take some time to notice it all.

Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box oldrotb.wpengine.com, an internet-based, global group of 3.2K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.

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