Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement for religious Jews all over the world. Even though I haven’t been a Hebrew-Israelite for nearly twenty-four years now, I still remember my Yom Kippur days at temple in solemn prayer and the days before in endless fasting (which is a great way to save money on food if you have to stretch every dollar like my mother did, by the way). Shalom to everyone who understands the significance of atoning for their sins and looking for a way to reconcile with Yahweh.
As for me, the beginning of the end of my Hebrew-Israelite days started the day my stepfather attacked my mother (see my blogs from June and July 2007 for more details), Memorial Day ’82. But it wasn’t until Yom Kipper in September ’83 that my search for my own higher power began in earnest. I missed a day of school to go to temple with a bunch of hard-looking, salt-and-pepper bearded men for several hours of kneeling and praying in Hebrew, a language that I didn’t know more than ten or fifteen words in. All of the men were dressed in their Afrocentric garb and wearing yarmulkes, having fasted for three days before making the journey to temple to atone for a year’s worth of sins. All that was missing was the sacrificing of an unblemished lamb, the ritual rendering of its body and its burning as an offering to the Lord of Hosts.
Then it hit me. What in the world have I done in the past year that I needed to atone for? Masturbation? Fighting a guerilla war with my stepfather over my right to see myself as someone he couldn’t control? Telling my mother that she should’ve had an abortion three months before the birth of my only sister? I uttered the words I needed to for atonement for these sins, but I realized that I didn’t care and surely didn’t believe in what I was saying. I felt that I had every right to fight to live my life, to survive my situation as best as I could, since Jehovah had abandoned us and saddled us with this asshole as a pretender, a charlatan of a man with no moral center.
And where were the women, the folks who cooked and cleaned and worked so that these men of Yahweh could gather in the One’s house and be cleansed temporarily of their transgressions? Worshipping in a separate room or at home, I guessed. My recent experience with abuse and my knowledge of my stepfather as a abusive adulterous liar and general SOB left me questioning the whole Hebrew-Israelite. By the time we left temple, I realized that I didn’t believe anymore. The whole Lost Tribes of Israel thing wasn’t exactly bullshit. It just stank of rotting intestinal flesh to me.
It took months of personal study time and my ninth grade Afro-Asian History class to keep me from becoming an atheist. Learning about Eastern religions and being able to see the big three belief systems of the West (Judiaca, Christianity and Islam) through a fresh set of eyes soon led me back to God. I realized that what I’d been looking for since my stepfather had come back into my life in ’81 was for someone or something to save me. I was seeking redemption, someone or something to tell me that I was worth something and that my life meant something of value to others, to this world or the next. It took seven months, but I became a Christian out of the simple need to have someone to look to as a shining example of personal and spiritual redemption.
That’s not to say that Yom Kippur is useless or is a crock. Yet for me, carrying around the weight of my sins and the sins of my parents and guardians proved to be too much. I needed (and still need) to have a higher power, God, the One in my life where I could take my sense of hopelessness, my feelings of disillusionment, my wounds of betrayal and give them up for hope, for peace, for love and faith, for the strength to carry on. One day a year for atonement, at least for me, is not enough. Not if redemption can only be granted once a year.