Parshas Vayelech: Skip High Holy Days – show up when it's fun to be a Jew?

This article was printed in the Cleveland Jewish News.

There is something that has always bothered me. It’s a tremendous irony about the Jewish people. I believe that we suffer from a national self-affliction disorder. Allow me to explain.

If you visit synagogues across the world on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the buildings are full. The parking lots are jampacked. Seats are at a premium. Now, most people inside do not find the High Holy Days services tremendously meaningful, and I am sure that few would label them as fun. While there is much meaning in the days for the learned and active, the services are tremendously tedious and uncomfortable for those who do not go to shul regularly. Which begs the question, why do you even go in the first place. Do we appreciate the discomfort?

On the flip side, there is Simchat Torah and Purim. Days of happiness, levity and all-around good times for everyone in attendance. It is interesting that when faced with the choice of attending services and participating in the holidays where we enjoy good food and wine, singing and dancing, and the other holidays that have services that are twice as long as the average Shabbat and are full of standing, fasting, and classical cantorial numbers, most choose to suffer through the latter and ignore the existence of the former entirely. So, why is it that the High Holy Days attract a full house, and Purim and Simchat Torah only attract a fraction of those numbers? It is inexplicable to me, and the only possible answer I can come up with is this idea of the self-affliction disorder.

In light of this, I would like to challenge our community. Don’t just show up when its hard to be a Jew; when services are long, and you have to fast. Show up when its fun to be a Jew. Show up on Simchat Torah where the day is filled with singing and dancing, and on Purim where there is eating and drinking; fun for everyone. I would even be so bold to say that if you are only going to show up twice a year, don’t go on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rather, go on Simchat Torah and Purim, the more joyous holidays that your children will enjoy and look forward to and love celebrating. Together, we can fight the self-affliction disorder and teach our children that Judaism is so much more than long hours and fasting!

Our entire community should be blessed with peace, tranquility, and most of all happiness in the coming year.