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Turning 30 on Yom Kippur

Every few years, my birthday falls on Yom Kippur. Any other early Libras in the house may know the joy that I experienced as a child, when my birthday celebration was combined with over a dozen hangry (read: hungry and angry) relatives hovering over a table full of bagels and lox, hapharazrdly singing happy birthday in a low-blood-sugar drone while a store-bought cake was wheeled out by my exhausted mother. Still, it seems appropriate somehow that this year, on the very day I leap gleefully out of my twenties and into my thirties, I should be asked by my religion to reflect upon the sins of my past, and possibly to atone for them. Hm. Could I have done anything over this past decade to warrant atonement?

To help answer my own (and G-d’s!) question, I’ve complied a short list. Here are some of the highs and lows of my twenties, in chronological order:

  1. Backpacked through Europe: Sweet Jesus (am I allowed to say that on here?), was that really ten years ago?!
  2. Followed my dreams: Moved to Hollywood to try and become famous. (Didn’t.)
  3. Abandoned my dreams: To be fair, they stopped being my dreams after three years of waiting tables.
  4. Put my youthful idealism to work: Worked at a nonprofit for four years.
  5. Had said youthful idealism trampled: Worked at a nonprofit for four years.
  6. Experienced quarterlife crisis: Flew into a complete panic upon turning 25. Drank heavily, pondered the meaning of my life, decided that I was no longer young, panicked more, drank more, made plans, forgot about them.
  7. Took advantage of being a spring chicken: Worked in seedy and not-so-seedy strip clubs to make some real money while working at a nonprofit for four years (no, not as a waitress).
  8. Had fling with wildly inappropriate individual: 20 years old. Bipolar. Temporarily homeless. Still managed to be incredibly sexy.
  9. Went back to Europe: This time I went with a play in hand and dreams of making it big at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Fine, you caught me – my dreams weren’t completely abandoned, per list item three. Literalist.
  10. Wrote book: Hopefully the thirties will see it published. (Publishers, feel free to email me at the address below.)
  11. Mastered the art of shameless self-promotion: See number 11.
  12. Had successful, adult relationship: So successful that I’m still in it, and in fact betrothed. All is not lost for my mother.

OK – that’s as exhaustive a list as I can muster at this moment, what with my old age and all. A few things that I have yet to accomplish but still hope to include garnering an invite to the Playboy mansion, going to Greece, and buying a large property in Montana for myself, my fiancé, and my dog.

So, back to my original question. For what need I atone? Judaism tells us that Yom Kippur isn’t about atoning for sins committed against other people, but about making things right between ourselves and G-d. Taking the liberty of interpreting this in my own way, a nonjudgmental G-d (the kind that I choose to believe in, thankyouverymuch) would ask in a kindly voice, “Well, what do you think you should atone for?” Good question, G-d. In the eyes of my native culture (the hard-knock streets of suburban Boston), some might say that a few of my particularly seedy undertakings would warrant atonement. Sex work springs to mind, for instance. It’s a questionable endeavor for a nice Jewish girl, and Julia Query certainly explored the guilt inherent in it enough for all of us in her documentary, Live Nude Girls Unite. Shameless self-promotion also seems a bit vain, a tactic from which an appropriately humble woman would perhaps shy away.   But frankly, I’m interested in a more personal kind of atonement. I don’t claim to be a Jewish scholar, and so maybe I’m approaching this all wrong. But I find myself less and less concerned with sins that have been laid out for me by a belief system I had no hand in creating. So, as I reflect upon the decade of debauchery, here’s what I think I should atone for: all the times in my twenties not that I let someone else down, but that I let myself down. Per my list:

  • I stayed at that nonprofit for about two years too long, out of guilt and fear.
  • I terrorized myself into believing that at age 25, my best years were rapidly passing me by. 
  • I had a fling that lasted 7 months and 29 days longer than it should have.

In those moments, I knew that I should be acting differently, treating myself with more respect, and listening to the little Jewess inside my head who told me to get the hell out, be nicer to myself, and get the hell out again, respectively. A good friend told me that when I turned 30, a light bulb would go off over my head. And as of this Yom Kippur, I do believe I’m starting to see it flicker.

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