Growing up, I had a mixed relationship with the High Holidays. We would host a party at my house with all of my family’s friends for a nice Rosh Hashanah meal. I vividly remember we would also have a bouncy house in the backyard, which was always a highlight. I eagerly looked forward to the bouncy house, apples and honey, round challah, and having all my friends over every year.


On the other hand, Yom Kippur felt like a drag. I could not understand why my dad would spend an entire day in the synagogue and why my parents would choose to subject themselves to hunger for an entire day. Even after my bar mitzvah – when I was *supposed* to start fasting – I decided that Yom Kippur was not for me. In truth, I only went to services at our synagogue in Houston to keep my family happy.


This past year in Israel [on the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows program] was the first time I decided to immerse myself in Yom Kippur fully. I found it incredibly easy compared to high school and college because there was no music festival, no football game, and no other distractions. Everyone around me was treating this holiday like this sacred day that it truly is.


I decided early on in my time in Israel that I would treat Yom Kippur with the sanctity that it deserves. It was important for me to observe the holiday my way. I removed myself from social media for a day and spent time reflecting in my journal at my favorite park overlooking the sea in Bat Yam. So, that is how I fasted for the first time in my life. The hunger pangs added to my first actual Yom Kippur experience – and as the day went on, I could see why Yom Kippur is so meaningful to so many people – my parents included.


Living in Israel is the only reason I could have this important experience for myself. The culture and the people all around me were able to contribute to the environment where I felt safe and comfortable enough to participate in this holiday for the first time. Because of [my Masa] experience, I have greater respect for the day and will participate in Yom Kippur in my present and future.

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