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 Between the classic literature and the outdated technology, I felt like I was traveling toward the past.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.

32 thoughts on “Return

  1. Hello Corinna! I have been wondering about how easy it would be for you to attend an ultra Orthodox service, and I can see that I am going to find out, lol. IF I await my soul in patience.

    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti, Just a little foreshadowing: it was tricky. Not so much because newcomers aren’t welcome, but maybe because they are less accustomed to having them. Sometimes I felt very “out of place”–but much of that was my own insecurities with being in such an unfamiliar environment.

  2. Hi Corinna: Well, I’m back from our trip. I just read the last several posts since we left on our trip and I was gloriously unplugged.
    I feel as though, reading through these last several posts, I have been on sacred ground, with you being more personal here than on many of your blog posts. What I have read so far makes it seem as though you have come back “home” somehow. Your journey, no matter how hard it has been for you–or even personally painful–has brought great encouragement. I like how you presented the Jewish idea of their being “chosen” individually simply by virtue of being given life. I see it as a distinct privilege that all humans have been created in the image of God–a precious gift placed into the world. This includes you, me, and all non-Jews (we Gentiles, Goyem). I envy the Jews, who had the unique privilege of serving as a light to reveal God to us. Perhaps you saw some of that in those Bar and Bat Mitzvahs….

    • I think I need to clarify one comment: “gloriously unplugged” is referring to the fact that, while away, I was not on line….Of course, coming home meant that I had to catch up with emails, facebook, writing, and this dear blog. I have not read everyone’s comments on the posts. One day, I’ll get one of those round things called a “tuit”….

    • Walt, Good to have you back! Funny you should return at my post entitled “Return.” Did we plan that? It’s funny you should mention that this last series of posts have that quality of “coming back home.” Frank has mentioned something similar, which got me thinking. Officially, I would say Christianity is more my “home turf” in that my grand and great parents were rooted there. So I don’t know if this quality you notice is a function of Judaism revealing some of the most essential, foundational wisdom embraced by Christianity so that I have a better understanding of where I come from. So, it’s akin to that idea that one must leave home to better understand home. Or, perhaps, there’s something else to it that I can’t quit see yet and only time will tell.

      • Only time will tell for all of us….Foundational wisdom embraced by Christianity: yes. After all, Judaism was Jesus’ religion. His teaching stemmed from the basic commands of loving God and loving others. Much of his teaching might be thought of as correctional…. For example, the teaching in the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) is certainly what the Jewish Scriptures were all about–but was not being heard from the lips of the teachers of Israel. Many perceive the God of the Old Testament to be different from the God of the New….(I’m still reading through the OT, btw). Right now I’m reading a book called “The Healer of Shattered Hearts: a Jewish View of God” by Rabbi David Wolpe. I’ll say more about it later. It’s good to be back! 🙂

  3. Walt, welcome back and I hope you had a restful vacation – hoped you ‘plugged in’ to either nature or some hospitality!

    • Thanks, Carmen. We did….the hospitality of a city, and, as John Denver used to say, “It’s good to be back with the ocean again”….and the animals…human and otherwise. We went to San Diego. Living in Los Angeles, we’ve been there a gazillion times, but never took time to really see it. We didn’t kill ourselves trying to go everywhere, but we had certain things we wanted to enjoy, like the zoo, the “trolley” (electric transit system), some old buildings like the US Grant Hotel in the gas light district, and the beach in La Hoya (Beverly Hills of SD)–the quiet part down the way from where everyone and his mother goes to be seen or burned or some such….:)

  4. Welcome back, Walt—you were missed!

    Corrina, you should have let Walt and me know when you were in L.A. I’ve been known to cross the Orange Curtain on occasion, and we could have taken you to Du-Pars for some hot apple pie!

    From what you’ve written about your experience with Judaism, and from Rabbi Aaron’s comments, I’m picturing Judaism as the wise old uncle to the upstart and brash Christianity. For one thing, it strikes me as more nuanced than Christianity—there is less black and white; and it seems more relational on a personal level—how the individual relates with God and with others on a day-to-day basis. Certainly, it has just as much ritual as liturgical Christianity, but it seems Jews take the time to educate their children about the meaning behind the ritual, something that’s been lacking in mainstream Christian liturgical churches for a long time. I think it’s much easier to get away with being the stereotypical “Sunday” Christian, who goes to church but otherwise doesn’t give his faith much thought, than it would be if you were a practicing Jew—faith and self-identity seem much more intertwined.

    • Hi Tim. Thanks for the welcome! No, didn’t tour the Midway this time around. Went there shortly after it was opened with a group of Dads and sons from church. Michelle wasn’t excited about it. We saw plenty enough!

      I think what you had to say about Judaism was right on. There are, however surprisingly to most Christians, many Jews who are only cultural Jews, but don’t have much truck with God because of the Holocaust and other things. There is no place in which this is more evident than Israel itself. But religious and non-religious Jews are united there: they are together surrounded by peoples who want to wipe them from the face of the earth!.

      • We’ve discussed the Holocaust before, as I recall. I can’t say as I’d blame anyone for abandoning their faith in the face of such overwhelming evil. If there was an easy explanation, someone would have found it a long time ago, I guess. I’d like to hear Rabbi Aaron’s thoughts on the subject when he returns….

        • Hi Everybody,
          I am back from a business trip and I am happy to be home.

          I see Tim’s question about the Holocaust and as anyone can surmise, there are no simple answers. A few things, that I have heard do resonate with me. First how, the survivors choose to live their lives is beyond any human judgement. Some became closer to Gd, some the reverse. They are all holy, as they have tasted the most inhumane treatment that man can serve upon man. They are exempt from our paradigm of reason and we have no right to judge them.

          The Second lesson is since the event itself is unfathomable. Gd cannot be put into a little bottle which we can grasp…nor is it within our reach to explain why a people would systematically do all they could to destroy another race. Their passion was so deep for this they virtually destroyed themselves. Commiserating, not the same as truly mourning, will not advance a single positive element in this world. The Jew can by simply developing his Jewishness becomes the anti-dote for the poison of the Holocaust. The Nones of this world who refuse to stand by genocide or remain silent in the face of naked hatred also create positive forces in this world.

          For many years I have felt the duty to answer questions regarding Judaism for precisely this reason. Hatred thrives in darkness and we are all capable to broadcast light.


            • A few years ago Centers for Spiritual Living had their summer conference at Asilomar, a wonderful grounds by the ocean near Monterey, Ca. and our keynote speaker was Anglican Bishop Spong. We whispered among ourselves: “If we had Bishops we’d want Bishop Spong to be ours.” I’m beginning to feel that way with Rabbi Aaron: “If we had Rabbi’s we’d want Rabbi Aaron to be ours.”

  5. Corinna,
    The “Return” posting has me thinking about looking back…..about seeing the past from our present position. I have been considering the function of the rear view mirror, and am reminded of the cautionary statement which is printed on mine: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” It is hard to look back with out our lifelong perceptions distorting past reality. Sometimes things appear to be closer; sometimes farther away…or whatever! …….it is just the nature of the beast. We just can’t keep our past and out present separate….even when we try. This is a comment from my experience as much as for you. I’ve had occasion to do a lot of thinking back!

    You have already made this trip “home” to L.A. and have returned, so I know that you have already distilled and (partly!) digested all that you experienced with your visits to the Ultra-Orthodox synagogues, which was ostensibly the reason for this trip, but that you have also dealt with whatever unfinished business you had at other destinations motivated by the stirrings of your heart. The personal depth of feeling and meaning in your current postings may or may not have anything to do with Judaism….but everything to do with this journey you are on.
    I am glad to be here with you.

    • Hi Merrill, Good point. This entire journey has made me introspective, but it’s also given me tools and a language I didn’t really have access to before so that I’m able to see things in a different light. I’m glad you’re here.

  6. Let’s see what happens when you get to Buddha. As you’ve been describing some parts of Judaism and its practice I’ve noticed how certain practices get called by a descriptive name and it reminded me that in Buddhism there seems to be a name for even the minutest of practices. I’m always intrigued by the writings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who seems so solid in her faith and describes its effect on daily life brilliantly.

    • Great little video, Frank! In the early 80’s, I had a college job working for the Red Cross delivering blood to area hospitals. We had a big distribution center on the western edge of downtown LA at Pico and Vermont (those of you from LA may know the area), and I spent a couple of summers working there. In the 80’s, it was very much an area in transition, from predominantly Anglo, to Latino, with an increasing Asian population (its now part of Koreatown). There was a big turn-of-the-century bungalow style house behind our building that was used as (I think) a monastery by a group of Buddhist monks. Every now and then they’d come out into the front yard/garden to work on the plants and meditate. I didn’t give it much thought then, but the ability to be centered and introspective in the middle of a huge city is an admirable quality regardless of one’s faith. After watching the video, I’m wondering if it wasn’t one of the challenges Pema Chodron described.

  7. Hi Corinna,

    A few thoughts about “Return” You highlighted a sensitive aspect of our duties and the meaning of Return. Yom Kippur can only resolve the misgivings we have directly with Gd. Those that exist between ourselves and our friends have to be resolved personally. When one does Return to those relationships, that need mending, then the day itself, Yom Kippur delivers the deepest spiritual rewards and that is to Return to a complete and wholesome relationship with Gd and all of his family, (that is all of us). The term repentance just doesn’t cut it. The metaphor that I wrote previously of our bond being comprised of spiritual strands with Gd, is a state of normalcy. If we neglect these strands whether with Gd or our family, friends etc, the strands are damaged and we become distant. The preparation and sincere effort to effect what we can bring by Yom Kippur is to Return us to our proper place.

    Incidentally, while Yom Kippur carries a somber tone, Chassidim strive to see that it has an undertone of Joy. Reconnecting with our Father in heaven, living a richer life, refining our relationships and deeds brings a deep inner joy. This was one of the most profound ideas the was articulated by the founder of the Chassidic Movement, the Baal Shem Tov.

    If there are any other questions that I missed, please feel free to bring them up.

    • Hello Aaron. Thank you for what you wrote. It is indeed good to have an actual Rabbi here. I have been gone for awhile so missed some of the commets on the last 3-4 posts.
      I wasn’t sure what you were referring to by “spiritual strands.” Can you give an example or two? Does your use of ‘misgivings’ refer to offenses? If not, what? Thanks.
      Also, I’ve been noticing the last few years that some Jews leave out the ‘o’ from the word God. I understand the rational for different vowel points on YHWH, and I assume this also has something to do with a fear of saying the Lord’s name incorrectly…is that correct? I always assumed, by the manner in which the Lord revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush, that he would want his people to call him by name.

    • I love how you have put this, Rabbi. If “return” does not go all the way back to Gd, it is not complete, for the very first offense is against our Creator. We may not be able to depend upon others to remember our offense, or take our need to mend it seriously, or some may remember it well and may refuse to forgive. But Gd never refuses to forgive us when we truly return to Him (and do so on a continual basis) and Gd wills to restore us. I love how you say this sincere effort is to “Return us to our proper place.”

      The Psalmist says:
      “Bend down, O LORD, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help. Listen closely to my prayer, O LORD; hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever I’m in trouble, and you will answer me. No pagan god is like you, O Lord. None can do what you do! All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. For you are great and perform wonderful deeds. You alone are God. Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you. With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever, for your love for me is very great. You have rescued me from the depths of death. (Psalm 86:1-13 NLT)

      These are words we could all use to return.

    • Hi Rabbi, This idea of “return” can be understood on so many levels–from the basic to the profound. It seems so essential. Oh, also, I’m glad you pointed out the aspect of joy. I never want to forget that the underlying point of all of it is JOY.

  8. Hi Walt,
    See “Crumbs” Aaron says:
    July 31, 2013 at 9:27 pm for definition of strands.

    Yup misgivings is the PC way to say offenses or the “S” word.

    Out of respect, we leave out a key letter so that we do not accidentally misuse or profane his name. All good questions.

    • Aaron: thank you for directing me to what you wrote about strands. Very illuminating.
      As you may have figured out, I’m a follower of the Rabbi Yeshua. It’s often said that he “started” a new religion, though if the Gospel accounts and Acts have any credibility, it seems more like he was seeking–as Messiah (which I know you would dispute)–to bring some corrective to what the Jews were hearing from the teachers of the time, to help people understand the Father and what he intended his Kingdom to be about, and to present himself as the final and complete ransom.
      Saying that, I’ve taken a renewed interest in Christianity’s Jewish roots. We visited Israel two years ago, a dream of mine since at least the mid 70s. Your words were indeed refreshing. There seems to be an uncertainty and tentativeness in Jewish expressions of faith and how to live out our lives–not, mind you, that there is an uncertainty that God is there, but rather in what we are about. American evangelicalism, of which I have been part since 1971, seems to think itself sure of all that it teaches as “truth.” I have become much more comfortable with ambiguity and less with self-assured (presumptive?) expressions of faith.

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