The official name for the atonement that Jews practice during Yom Kippur is “teshuvah,” which is Hebrew for “repentance.” It’s built on the word “shuvah,” or “return.” They are two sides of the same coin. Even if you do not actually go anywhere physically, you have to review your past actions, you have to go back to the people you may have wronged. You can’t make amends without returning—the proof is in the language.
After the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I had a couple months to plot my visit to Los Angeles.
I would drive by myself and stay for about eight weeks. I had two goals: to contact my old friends and to attend services at as many synagogues as possible, objectives that had fused in my imagination.
At the first signs of spring, I packed my car. I kissed my None husband goodbye. Maybe I would return home with elements of his abandoned Judaism that he would willingly embrace.
I had three days of driving to speculate about experiences this trip might bring. Would my friends even want to see me after so many years? Could a non-Jew just saunter into synagogues—especially ultra-Orthodox ones—unannounced?
At the library, I checked out an audio version of the novel Great Expectations—on cassette tape. My car has a tape deck in addition to a CD player and the librarian agreed to extend the due date. Between the classic literature and the outdated technology, I felt like I was traveling toward the past.
The audio version of the Dickens’ novel provided enough hours of story to take up a majority of the drive there with some left over for the way back. I hadn’t thought about it when I picked it, but now as chapter one began to play, I reflected on how appropriate the title. Judaism, like Christianity, is built on great expectations. Jews anticipate the arrival of a messiah just as Christians await the return of a messiah. Both religions help instill life with a sense of optimism—a belief that something good is just around the corner. Now I had great expectations of my own.