Early in my Jewish immersion, a.k.a. getting to know Karen’s family, I greeted my future brother-in-law with a hearty “Happy Yom Kippur!” He looked a little shocked before he chuckled and told me that’s not really the way you do it on Yom Kippur.
Heck, how would I know? I grew up in a family that spanned from spiritual agnostic (my mother) to full-fledged atheist (Dad), and had zero interest in organized religion.
My mom was probably just hedging her bets (or succumbing to some sort of family pressure – I’m not exactly sure because my memories of those first few weeks after I was born are fuzzy) by getting my head splashed with water in a Lutheran church, maybe just in case there was a hell down there (she was a good mother). A few years later, for some reason equally mysterious, she took me to Sunday school for a few Sundays, and by the third Sunday, when she woke me up to go, I told her, honestly, “All they do is sing songs I don’t know the words to, and I’d rather sleep late.” “Yeah, me too.” And that was the end of my religious training.
Until Karen. Not that she’s any more religious then I am, and her mom and late dad aren’t/weren’t exactly Temple junkies. But being Jewish, I learned pretty quickly, was about more than going to temple and reading their good book, er, scroll. The whole cultural thing, it’s true.
But that part was easy. Kinda fun actually (most of the time). And being partially of Eastern European ancestry, there were always some whiffs of familiarity to some of it (like the food), even if it’s likely my goyish Ukrainian ancestors were probably pogrom-ing her ancestral fiddlers on the roof.
But it was wild finding a religion with a “holiday” that was all about atonement and fasting and repentance and, well, how can it even be called a holiday? Actually, I don’t think Jews do. Only us Goyim. And it ain’t some obscure little Jewish whatever-day (and there are about a thousand of those) that can just be ignored unless you’re a Super Jew. It’s the biggie. Kind of like Christmas cubed.
But over the years, it struck me – the Jews have it absolutely right. Why the heck would you say “Happy Yom Kippur” (which literally means, “the day to atone”), considering what it’s about?
OK, then what the heck is it with Christians and Good Friday?
“Good”? Isn’t it all about a very, very lousy day for the biggest Christian dude ever, so big, they named him after the religion itself? Or the other way around – like I said, religion ain’t my thing.
But it’s about him getting his ass seriously kicked by nasty Romans and then tossed up on a cross and basically tortured to death, right? That’s reason for a freakin’ holiday?
And they call it “good”?!? Wow. I’d hate to think what the hell (literally) a “Bad Friday” would look like. Maybe it’ll be the apocalypse, though that’ll be Bad Monday or Bad Tuesday. Those fit an apocalypse better than a Friday.
Easter I get – the big dude returns. Happy Holiday!
Now let’s celebrate by looking for hidden eggs?