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Saturday, September 13, 2014

I Long for the Simplicity...

by John Maayan

I long for the simplicity with which I practiced teshuva when I was young. Back then, I firmly believed that if I said every word of the prayers, I would compensate for the terrible things I had done – (for all the terrible deeds I had committed as a young teenager). The prayers were a magical incantation for fixing my fictional crimes. I did not understand the meaning of these prayers. But reciting them was cathartic and liberating – and I began each new year--believing I was forgiven.
When I was young, I attended an Orthodox Jewish day school. The lessons of this institution had a strong and indelible impact on me. Back then, I shouldered an impressive burden of guilt for not living a “holy life”--as was presented to me at school on an almost daily basis. (To this day, my shoulders sag from the weight of that guilt.) Back then, holiness meant keeping kosher and keeping Shabbat--neither of which I did. Holiness meant not gossiping or harboring impure thoughts--but believe me, I gossiped and harbored. And so I approached the High Holidays every year--eager for heavy-duty Teshuva.

Much has changed in the decades since my adolescence. I have spent many hours delineating for myself--which pearls from my Orthodox day school years to safeguard and which to let go--which values and teachings continue to add meaning to my life and which do not.

As I once again enter this High Holiday season, my frame of reference has, of course, changed much. And yet, I somehow miss the clarity and structure of my youth. I yearn for the comfort of approaching this season with a rock solid belief. Today, I am not so sure of (or don’t want to admit to) my sins--and I no longer believe that perfect forgiveness and renewal comes with such ease and simplicity.

And as for a “holy life”--I am still in pursuit of this elusive prey and still carry guilt for allowing it to slip through my fingers--for letting it fall to the bottom of my list of priorities. Even as I no longer define holiness as I once did--I still believe it to be a worthy aspiration.

So I approach this season, with a prayer in my heart that may hopefully lead to Teshuva--and a return to that feeling of liberation from years ago. I pray that I will find a way to approach life with a greater sense of appreciation and specialness. I hope that I can make a contribution to my world this coming year--to give to others physically and spiritually. I hope that I can minimize the waste in my life--the thoughtless squander of cherished gifts, resources, and time. Most of all, I pray that I can find peace--in my love for my family and friends, in respect for others and for the planet--and ultimately find holiness in the precious wonder of life.

Jon Maayan has been a member of Shaare Emeth for the past 13 years, starting when he and his wife, Cheryl, moved back to their native St. Louis with their two sons, Gabe and Ari. He spends his days as an architect, a homemaker, a remodeler, a cyclist and an aspiring musician.

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