Yom Kippur
Shacharis: Leviticus 16: 1- 34
Mincha: Leviticus 18:1-30

"A Disaster and A Delight" ©
By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

It was mid August. My wife and I had just moved into an area where a new shul would soon begin establishing itself providing it drew well for the high holiday services at a local hotel. We were severely criticized by several rabbium for making this move. We were told "what a mistake" it was, yet we were determined to do what we believed in our hearts was best for us. One of them called us from Yisroel and rebuked us in a very angry tone. We still needed to do what was best for us.

Rosh Hashanah came quickly that year. We celebrated it at a hotel some distance from where we lived with the hope that this would be the beginning of a new congregation. Some participants arranged for rooms at the hotel, others like us walked and others drove. Everyone had the opportunity to rent rooms if they desired. Assistance was available for those that could not afford rooms. All the meals were catered under the supervision of the rabbium conducting the High Holiday services. It was a wonderful experience. Everything went well. It was very encouraging.

The ten days of repentance were going by fast. Yom Kippur was just several days away. During those days, I received a call from an individual strongly urging me not to be a part of the services at the hotel. In a very forceful way he said I belonged with the frum community and not at the hotel. I objected to such forceful, controlling behavior, thinking, "The chutzpah of this individual!"

As it turns out, Yom Kippur was a disaster. Walking miles back and forth to the hotel was difficult while fasting. Yet there were other problems more obvious and difficult. Upon arriving at the hotel on Yom Kippur day, we walked into a crowded lobby where overhead music was blaring and people were making room arrangements and buying candy, soft drinks, etc. The atmosphere was a real blow to the sanctity of the day. We entered the conference room. There were dozens of empty seats. There was barely a minyan. It was quiet. You could hear a pin drop. Most of the men present were beginners. They were just learning, trying to follow and trying to keep up. Voices in unison were rare that day. The absence of the seasoned voices of prayer was very obvious. As the empty chairs began to fill so did the noise factor with people talking and joking. It was difficult to concentrate on prayer. I began to think about the phone call earlier in the week. Maybe that individual was right. Two men in front of me were having a business conference. Several men to the right were talking about relatives and vacation. It was very difficult to pray with such a low level of kiddusha. It was discouraging. I moved several times. Once was over next to the wall of the next room. It was the kitchen. The cooks were banging pots and pans, etc. Later that day it was time for a bathroom break. Upon leaving the conference room, I discovered the lobby was filled with Jews standing around shmoozing. It was awful. On top of all that, you could smell the food from the restaurant where a line had formed.

As Yom Kippur day began to wear on, I had had enough. As it turns out, my wife was also upset. She was looking for me. We had to escape this place where only the first three rows had any serious appearance of holiness. On the way home it hailed quarter size hail. This was the worst Yom Kippur we ever experienced.

Thank G-d the story doesn't end here. We jump to the following year during the ten days of repentance. We had just enjoyed another wonderful Rosh Hashanah as we had the previous year with the same people. However the bitter taste of Yom Kippur still lingered. There was no way we were going to pray with this same bunch this Yom Kippur. Then the phone rings. It is the individual who strongly objected to us attending services at the hotel last year. I began the conversation with, "Don't worry. We are not going to the hotel this Yom Kippur" when he interrupted me with the words, "You don't have a choice; I already purchased your hotel room." Out of respect for this individual's kind gift, we agreed to attend the services at the hotel again. I thought, "At least we have a room. We won't have to walk this year. If things get difficult, at least we can return to our room. That will be much better."

As it turns out, this was the best Yom Kippur my wife and I ever experienced. Something happened to this bunch of Jews. Something really happened to them. During the year they began attending the newly formed shul. They participated in classes. They grew! They developed! These Jews were serious about Yom Kippur. It was the most wonderful experience. The fellows that had had a business conference the previous Yom Kippur were actually praying. They were serious. Just about everyone there was serious. Few Jews were in the lobby when it was time for a bathroom break. This Yom Kippur was just out of this world. The growth in Yiddishkeit was evidenced by the growth of each member. Truly this congregation had become a congregation. It was such a joy to be there! It was such a privilege to be with people where shuvah was so evident. The presence of G-d was so real.

Now, years later, after both of these experiences, it is clear they were connected. On the first Yom Kippur my eyes were blinded to the simple fact that just being there was such a giant step for so many. Generally everyone was sincere. The religious culture shock was just as great for many of the Jews attending their first Orthodox Yom Kippur as the non observance was for my wife and me.

It's good that G-d understands all these things and judges us on the sincere motive of our heart and not our outward appearance.

Many of the Jews who attended the first Yom Kippur service at the hotel have gone on to become pillars of a wonderful, newly developing frum community in which my wife and I are very pleased to have been a small part for several years. We wish them well and continue to pray for their great success.

I wish you the best of everything this year including physical health, mental health, stability, Torah study with great learning advancements, financial prosperity and may you be inscribed and sealed in the book of Life.!!

Best Wishes!

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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