This past weekend was Yom Kippur, the holiest of days and my favorite holiday each year. It is a coming together in the truest sense for me. A trip to the east coast and an immersion into the lives of my parents and into the extended family of their friends and their community and a most lovely temple here in the Berkshires. Hevreh, the temple of which I speak, is nestled at the edge of Great Barrington and, though I am not an official member of the congregation, it has been my home for the high holy days for four years now. It is my community, too.
I bring myself into the sanctuary - even this calling of this room creates for me a peace of mind and spirit - and the familiar greetings that fill the space before the service begins is, in of itself, a melody. As much a part of the service as the prayers and music and meditations that are soon to come, the act of welcoming each other into this time of prayer settles us into our seats and into each other's hearts. We are of one mind as we begin to sing the familiar and ancient tunes of our heritage.
The night of Kol Nidre and the following, full day of prayer was winding down when Rabbi Gordon addressed the congregation with her explanation of the act of full prostration. We, as modern day Jews, no longer engage in this practice. We bow now as we pray and we beat our fist against our heart as we repeat the Vidui - the prayer of confession which brings us through the process of atonement - but we no longer bring ourselves fully to the ground.
Because I did not know, until just that moment, that the Jewish People engaged in this practice, I was intrigued. Raised in a Reform version of Judaism, the acton of kneeling was not included in my upbringing. I thought of such movements as more in keeping with going to church with my churchgoing friends when I was growing up, or seeing muslim prayer and watching the movement that accompanied the collective intonation as they moved through the postures familiar to their rituals.
But there was a second reason why this idea, of taking oneself to the ground, struck a chord in me. I have been following, as I am sure has many others, the kneeling of our football players during the singing of our National Anthem. And I have been engaging in productive and often heated conversations through social media about the appropriateness of the action of taking a knee.
I believe it is a right and just action. But I struggled to find just the right words to explain why I feel that the act of taking a knee is respectful even while it is a statement, strongly made and necessary. And so when Rabbi Gordon referenced prostration, the images of so many intentioned and brave athletes played before my eyes. I knew there was a connection here for me.
And so I went "a googling" and found a passage on the importance of prostration in the act of prayer and I saw, in these words written by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser, a clear understanding of what I believe is going on on our playing fields and in our country.
Rabbi Goldwasser writes this about Yom Kippur and the importance of prostration: This is our day to be spiritually naked and admit that the things we usually think are so important — our accomplishments, prestige, learning and wisdom — are just a facade we use to convince ourselves that we are something big and important. The truth that Yom Kippur comes to teach us is that we only matter to the extent that we live our lives in service to something greater than ourselves. We have an obligation to do that.
Now, I know that this passage that I quote above was not written in reference to our kneeling athletes. And I know that these kneeling athletes did not research prostration and how it relates to Yom Kippur before deciding to take a knee. But what I do know, in the action we see on the field and in the dialog that is taking place between these players, is their desire to make a difference in their communities and in our country.
For in the act of kneeling is the act of taking a stand. For in the act of kneeling is protest against injustice and prejudice. For in the act of kneeling is an act of service. It is a physical manifestation of these men's desire to elicit change in this country. It is greater than themselves.
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