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Yom Kippur 5780

11/12/2019 01:50:34 PM


Lisa Schachter-Brooks

It is an honor to stand before you tonight on this day of At-One-Ment when our souls are called into the temporal Holy of Holies.  I want to start by expressing my gratitude for being right in this very place at this very moment with all of you and for this beautiful Sonoran Desert and the peoples who have welcomed us to dwell here.


I come to you as a congregant,  a congregational director and as a fellow seeker on this ancient Jewish spiritual path. I also stand before you as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and so many more descriptive words.  But ultimately, today being the day that we can strip down all of these identities and rest in the pureness of our beings, I stand humbly before you in this simple manner. And I stand before you as witness to the pureness of each of your beings.


As I pondered what words and ideas I might possibly have to share with you tonight, I read and thought and wrote but ultimately just a few days ago, I was stuck. What wisdom could I possibly share.   I shared my block with my beloved hubby, Brian Yosef, and his immediate reply (via text) was “Tell a story of forgiveness. Something that’s real.  Like your college bestie, Jenn." Oy, that suggestion sent me spinning.  He hit on a story that NEEDS forgiveness…not a beautiful tale of forgiveness and reconciliation but one that’s still open and festering.    Who am I to talk about forgiveness when I have ignored a significant relationship in serious need of repair for so many years?  


OK. So here it is, I’ve decided to share a real-time, vulnerable story about a part of  my personal teshuva. Circumstances or convenience brought Jenn into my life during the first week of college though we didn’t really have so much in common.  She is Chinese-American from Northern California, an artist, a designer, a crafter, very orderly and President of the Asian Students organization.  I was a very assimilated Jewish girl from Miami- a bit scattered and messy, not sure where my passions lie. Jenn loved me so much.  She made me jewelry in her metalsmithing classes, sewed me a fleece sweatshirt before fleece hit the market, made me a birthday dinner for my 21st that included homemade sushi and handmade pasta.  The only time I ever went to Hillel for a Shabbat dinner was with Jenn (her orthodox roommate had cooked that week.) She was not only thoughtful, she followed through on these thoughts and ideas of how best to be a good friend and showered me with loving acts.


After college, I spent most of my twenties living abroad. First in Israel for 3 years and then in Costa Rica where I ran a tourism business and basically didn’t take a day off for 2 years.  During that time, I did fly home for her wedding but then buried myself again in the jungle and my busy, busy (and exhausting)life.  Time passed and I wasn’t in touch for long stretches.   One day, my mother received a fax for me (that kind of dates this story.)  It was from Jenn saying that she was very disappointed in me and hurt by my lack of communication and contact with her.  My immediate response was defensiveness. Do you know how busy I am? How much responsibility I’m holding? I didn’t MEAN to hurt you. I love you but, but, but…..

Needless to say, this response didn’t go very far. Jenn didn’t want to stay in contact.


For months and months, I held on to this broken friendship with guilt and shame and remorse. I wrote letters to her in my head to apologize and try to repair the relationship. But here’s the thing:  I never sent them!


There were a million reasons I came up with to justify this. I’m too busy to write a really good letter. She’s being too sensitive.  What’s the point, we live completely across the country from one another now?  I reached out to invite her to my wedding and she said she couldn’t come. That must mean she doesn’t want to be in touch.

But the truth lies beyond all of these lame excuses. I felt guilty and I didn’t really know how to own up to it.  I had completely blocked myself from doing the right thing, taking the right step. I have now held on to this painful reality for almost 18 years. And even though there are infrequent reminders in my regular daily life,  it does come up in my heart very often and I feel the shame and guilt all over.   This was a sin of omission- of not being a good and loyal friend.  For the sin that I have committed by ignoring a friendship. 


At the same time that my friendship with Jenn was flourishing, I studied the different theories about developmental stages as a child development major.  The last stage  for most of the theorists was ADULTHOOD.  A great paradigm shift was offered to me in graduate school, in a class, appropriately named Adult Development, when Professor Bob Kegan suggested that there are multiple stages within adult development- though most adults (65%!) never move past the very first stage of adult development.  Becoming an adult is not the end point in our life journeys.  The point of adulthood from a developmental perspective isn’t just to acquire more knowledge and things; to get better at what we do and make more money as a result- it is actually to transform ourselves and our perspectives, to refine our middot- the qualities that make us uniquely human- and to evolve into the best versions of ourselves.  We might experience similar obstacles and challenges throughout our lives but rather than just cycling through them in the same way as the first time, Kegan’s idea for adult development and change is about turning that cycle into a Spiral- approaching a similar experience from a more evolved place.  


Like many of us, my path to this moment has had many twists and turns. But one of the reasons that I have committed to this sometimes complicated, sometimes inconvenient Jewish practice is the framework that it has set up for us as individuals, as a community, as a people, to constantly strive to transform, to reach towards our highest selves. 


The holiday cycle of the year carries us through the seasons year in and year out, from deep introspection and renewal at this time of year, bringing light into the darkest days, connecting to the Earth as the sap begins to rise in the trees, celebrating liberation (with some kitchen scrubbing for extra measure), revelation, acknowledging our personal and communal grief and then back again to this season of returning.  And yet, when we reach the starting point all over again, when we return again to the beginning, our hope is not for the same old, same old do over of how it was last year.  We hope that we are not exactly the same as we were last year. We experience these same touchpoints, these chagim, from a new and different, hopefully transformed and evolved place.  The cycle actually becomes a spiral as it stretches throughout our lives. 


And this brings me to my favorite two lines of Jewish Liturgy


Hashivenu Adonai Eleicha v’Nashuva. Hadesh Yameinu k’kedem.


Return us HaShem to You and we will return. Renew our days as of old.


These lines which we sing every time we return the Torah to the ark come from Eicha, the Book of Lamentations that we read on Tisha B’Av- that other fast day.  There is much to unpack but tonight, on this Day of At-One-Ment, I want to look at these ideas of returning and renewal which are core to the process of teshuva.  Of course, teshuva, sometimes translated as repentance, is after all from the same shoresh- root word- as return. Hashivenu, nashuva, teshuva.  So the whole idea of teshuva-refining ourselves in speech, in thought, in action- is actually the act of returning but what is the direction of this return.  What are we returning to?


Hashivenu HaShem Elecha v’ Nashuva.  Return us to You HaShem and we will return. It’s a beautiful dance between ourselves, our souls and HaShem.


We cry out to the Divine One to return us, to bring us back so that we can return.  And then we ourselves actually will return.  Who has the agency in this paradigm? Who is leading the dance?  It seems to be that the two parties- us and the Divine- are completely entwined in this practice.  We need to ask to be returned in order to be able to do the returning. Is not the asking already the first step in the returning?  And asking requires us to humble ourselves before the Reality of the Universe. To acknowledge that there is a need for a do-over.


Hadesh yameinu k’kedem.  Renew our Days as of old. As my teacher of blessed memory, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z’l says, take us back not just to the point before the sin, before we messed up.  Take us back to the ultimate purity of our souls but in the newness of our current reality. For me, this evokes the spiraling between past, present and future, the many layers of our selves.



So pondering Brian Yosef’s suggestion of speaking about forgiveness, what chutzpah to think I can talk about this when this painful issue  with my friend Jenn was still unresolved?  I was gifted the opportunity to take a step forward, to actually act differently than I have year in and year out as I cycle through life.  Finally, right then and there, I began an email to Jenn. Here’s a piece:


I’m writing just days before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish
year when we create the space to take an accounting of our lives.
Every year at this time, as I reflect on my life, on my regrets and on
the people I need to forgive and from whom I need to ask for
forgiveness, my heart first and foremost lands on the thought of you
(in addition to many other times in the year.) I can't explain why
those thoughts and the deep remorse I feel have not led me to act, to
reach out, to apologize. I've written this letter in my head many,
many times (and even got various drafts on paper) over the years but
never managed to send it. This is part of my inner work that continues
to require examination. But this year, I couldn't not act.

So, I'm reaching out with a hand of friendship and love that I've
always felt so deeply for you. If you feel that there is a chance for
repair and reconnection, I would be humbled and honored to try. I
understand if I have caused too much pain through my silence and
distance and if reconciliation is not in your heart.

Of course, there is much, much more to say, but I don't want to let
finding all of the perfect words prevent me from actually sending this
to you.



And then, I actually sent it.


And then, I actually sat with the uncomfortable feelings that arose with the click of the send button. And I felt them burn through my system, a pain in my chest and a tightness in my belly. Sitting long enough to let myself let go.  I felt myself move a tiny inch forward on that spiral.  The real test however, is whether or not I actually integrate the learning I have gained from this experience; to act on what I know I need to do.  To not put it off for tomorrow.  Whether I don’t spiral back on the same behaviors.


For the sin that I have committed by ignoring a friendship.  For so many years, I have beat my breast about this.  Now, in taking this small yet significant step,  I have taken the charge away from it. I am tenderly acknowledging where I have missed the mark and how I can take action to repair the damage.


I haven’t heard back from Jen and I’m not sure that I will….but  the act of finally making a change and taking a step forward feels significant to me.  It also allows me to examine the other pieces of my inner life that caused my behavior or rather lack of action; to see patterns and traps that I have created for myself.  And in this season of introspection, of teshuva, of return, of at one ment, I can make the choice to spiral forward in my life in a new way, Hadesh Yameinu K’kedem- breaking patterns, creating new modes of being and relating.


As we enter this new year and new decade of 5780, I bless each of us to see each person in our lives including those sitting next to you right now, strangers on the street, estranged friends and relatives and our most intimate beloveds, in the pureness of our beings.  To allow the cycle of the Jewish year to support us and push us to spiral through our lives as we grow and learn and evolve.  To ask for return and to take the step to return. To feel the renewal of our days as of old.


Gmar Hatimah tova.

Sat, January 16 2021 3 Shevat 5781