Remembering Yom Kippur

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The final blast of the shofar will never sound the same.

In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur, a lot of thought was given to where I would be davening. More specifically, where I would not be davening. Last year, the chaggim were very emotional for me, as they were for many others. A good friend was in the hospital, dying, and we did not know when we would get The Call. His fiancée, one of my best friends, had asked me to keep my phone on over the chaggim, and the shabbos in between, so I could be reached with The Call. I agreed. Having a phone in my pocket, left on, was very heavy. I did not use it, I tried not to think about it, but I felt it and could not stop remembering why I had it in my pocket. The phone did not ring. I returned to the hospital each day to sit with my friend, support her. On Yom Kippur, my phone did ring. I left during the martyrology service, leaving my tallis behind. And I ran. I ran from 82nd and Broadway, the Upper West Side, up and through Central Park to Mount Sinai hospital, 101st and 5th, the Upper East Side.

A difficult decision had been made: our friend would be taken off life support the next day. At the request of a parent (hers? his?), I helped my friend from the room where the meeting had been held. We sat by her fiancé’s bedside for hours. Long after his family had left. We sat there, mostly in silence, until I was able to take her home for a sleepless night. I don’t remember much about that night, but I do remember my friend asking, “What do I wear to unplug my fiancé?” Always sardonic, humour was her way of getting through this.

The next morning, we were back at the hospital early, giving her time to continue her goodbye before his family arrived. As his loved ones gathered, prayers were said, many tears were shed… Eventually the doctors said it was time and… We stood around his bed, watching him take his last breath. There are so many flashes of images and sounds from those last moments… Powerful memories.

A year later, I can still clearly see his brother and father turning to each other and ripping each other’s shirts, starting their public mourning.

And so, as Yom Kippur drew near, my thoughts turned to these memories, and many more. I decided that I would have a better chance of focusing on my davening were I not in New York, at my favourite place for Yom Kippur, where I was last year, remembering everything that happened last Yom Kippur. In Brookline, I was not successful in focusing on davening. Before musaf, I was remembering the weight of the phone in my pocket. Come the martyrology, I was anxious, remembering how I left services abruptly to run across town. And the yizkor service pushed me over; I should have brought Kleenex.

After mincha, ne’ilah, and ma’ariv, the final blast of the shofar signaled that, yes, it was time to break the fast. But also signaled the day that our friend died, that the world lost a truly great person. Fewer than 12 hours later, I stood with his family and close friends in a small minyan, marking his yahrtsayt.

I wish the sound of his father’s cries, and his cries while davening, weren’t so familiar.

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