I haven’t blogged much lately, but in my defense, I was just promoted and have been very, very busy. I’m extremely grateful for the promotion and the generous raise that came with it, but it does require more work to be at this new level and I realize that. I used to be a prolific writer and blogger, but my career took a turn four years ago and I’ve struggled with finding time to write ever since. That’s likely to continue!
All that being said, I just went through my first experiences with the Jewish High Holy Days and it affected me profoundly. I have been struggling finding the right synagogue, and there aren’t a lot around here to choose from in the first place, but the one I was attending is no longer palatable. The rabbi I’m studying under, who was at the helm of that synagogue, has left and, out of loyalty to her and disgust with the leadership there, I haven’t gone back. This frustration, though, led me to a synagogue about 25 minutes away that I now know will be my future home for Jewish life and worship. Rosh Hashanah services there were absolutely breathtaking. My old synagogue was tiny, like being in someone’s living room, but this new place is large, with pews and the most gorgeous, two story ark that holds the Torah. They also have a choir that sings in Hebrew (of course). This music, combined with the prayers, moved me greatly. Rosh Hashanah is now my favorite Jewish holiday, but Yom Kippur is the one that affected me the most.
The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Days of Awe. It’s a time to “get right” with those we have had strife and struggle with over this past year. As Yom Kippur approached and then passed, one person kept appearing in my head, over and over again: my brother.
My younger brother is currently in prison for domestic abuse and intimidation. He’s also an alcoholic, having served previous time in jail due to DUI and domestic abuse charges. I’ve watched him walk down this road over a period of about ten years. I’ve seen the disease of alcoholism steal his career, his drive, and the life from his eyes. I’ve watched my dad completely disengage, and I’ve seen my mom’s heart break (literally – she now has a pacemaker due to the stress). In short, our family has been torn apart. My anger and my bitterness towards my brother has been like a poisonous knot at the back of my throat – always there, even when I pretended not to feel it.
Now that Brother is in prison until sometime next year, I realized that I had two options. I could let my silence and complete lack of care toward him continue to be the rule of the day, or I could admit to myself that I miss him, that I want him to get better, and that I needed to forgive him.
I chose the forgiveness option. Thanks to JPay, a website that allows you to communicate with incarcerated people, we began emailing. Thursday, I received a 10-page handwritten letter from him. Friday morning, I mailed back a typed 6-page letter in response. I also ordered an iCare package for him, which is full of snacks and treats, because his birthday just passed.
I’ve shed a lot of tears over the last week or so that we’ve been communicating. For the first time in ten years, he apologized for his actions and admitted that he went down a road he never intended to go down. I apologized for not being there when he needed someone.
I don’t pretend that he’s going to be on the straight and narrow when he’s released. Alcoholism is a lifelong disease that he has to manage properly or it will take him under again. What I do know is that the anger I’ve carried around for so long was detrimental to my own health, and the heartbreak of missing my baby brother was ultimately too much to endure.
Our truce is tentative, fragile. I hope over these coming months that we forge something stronger and that the pain subsides. I want my brother back, and it’s important for me to realize that I have to fight for him. I can’t cure him from alcoholism, but I can be there to help him fight it. If he wants to win this battle, I’ll pick up a sword and fight by his side.
Had I never explored Judaism and spent the past 10 months living through the Jewish lifecycle and celebrating its holidays, I wouldn’t be here now. I may not have observed Yom Kippur to the letter of the law, but I took from it the important pieces, and I’m those with me through this new Jewish year. To quote a song that I can’t stop listening to: “Forgiveness. Can you imagine?” (It’s Quiet Uptown from Hamilton.)