For five autumns now, ‘Iokepa and I have found ourselves strangers in unknown distant cities. Each year we’ve had to unearth a Jewish congregation from the yellow pages, and solicit an invitation to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in their large urban synagogue. Without exception, we’ve been embraced. But it is here in our tiny Kaua’i Jewish Community that we find home. Blessedly, we are home again this year for these most sacred Days of Awe. Our little congregation – maybe sixty strong on a very good day, counting visiting tourists – can’t afford a full-time rabbi, but we manage to bring one over for our High Holy Days each year. We don’t own a building, but we share the Episcopal Church’s breezy, glass-walled sanctuary on our separately observed Sabbaths and holidays. We make do.
We proudly celebrate our thirteen-year-old children’s ritual coming of age, bar and bat mitzvah. We gather under the chuppah (canopy) for our tropical Jewish weddings. We sit Shiva (ritual mourning) when our members pass on. Like any cultural community, we share our joys and we share our grief. We share our traditions, never more emphatically than on these Days of Awe.
These ten days wedged between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) have always represented an opportunity to nudge what needs awakening in myself, to adapt to what demands change. It is a time of deep and profound self-examination, and I treasure these sacred days.
This year, as we come near to concluding these all-too-brief days that will end with a 24-hour fast, the opportunity for introspection feels especially profound.
So many have written and asked us: Why the car accident that could have so easily taken our lives last May 20, but instead took our Camry and my good health for these past four months. We have been e-mailed, phoned, and probed face to face by those who know our deep faith and our genuine belief that there really are no accidents in this life: “For what purpose?”
So in this week that defines the Jewish Days of Awe (that I’m blessed to have my kanaka maoli husband share), we sit in silence in synagogue and we sit in conversation at home and we ask ourselves, “For what purpose?” The answer reveals itself, but I struggle to put it into words. Sometimes the deepest enigma is unveiled in the most overused phrases.
In sum: I am a better wife for this accident. I am a less judgmental human for this accident. I’m a more compassionate friend. I am more honest with myself. I cannot begin to say why that is so.
I realize – no, I physically feel the pain in my head, my neck, my chest, my arm, when I violate any of these claims. I hurt like hell when I fight, when I defend, when I win at another person’s loss.
The flip side is that I’m less willing to spend the sum of my too-brief days – squandering them or me – on things that feel unimportant. I’m less willing to engage socially just because I should. I demand more honesty and meaning from both my words and my minutes.
So maybe it is true, as folks here like to laugh and say: “People don’t move to the Hawaiian Islands to embrace their Judaism – they move to Brooklyn for that.”
But it is here, on this most northwestern edge of the Hawaiian Island chain smack in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, that I welcome these Days of Awe, and that I find the answers to “For what purpose…?” in the arms and heart of my Jewish community.