A Vietnamese Yom Kippur
by Kelley Kidd
A Yom Kippur spent fasting on the beautiful island paradise of Phu Quoc, in Vietnam, is not my typical Day of Atonement. But somehow that’s where I found myself, fasting after a seaside dinner in a bungalow. I stayed up late that night gazing into the sea reflecting, and wondering at its vastness. The next day, an early morning moto ride led us to a waterfall in a secluded jungle, where I splashed in the water and lost a flip flop, but where I also took the time to sit on a tree branch with water rushing across my legs and meditate. I considered my resolutions for the coming year, considered what I had noticed in my life that I wanted to change and to improve, and what to keep. I focused on my desire to be more courageous and open, and to live with gratitude, and as I gazed at the beauty around me, I made it my goal to find that kind of peace, joy and beauty in my life every day.
By 10:30 that morning, I was on a private boat out on the water, awed by the absolute beauty of the sparkling water and sunshine. In keeping with my resolutions, I went snorkeling and jumped off the top of the boat a few times—things I would often have been too timid to try. I spent the entire day in a state of wonder at the world, and my own life, and made a conscious effort to focus in on it, savor it, and pay attention to it so that I could preserve that sense of gratitude.
By most standards, this is not what Yom Kippur generally looks like. However, I don’t think that spending my Yom Kippur in hungry bliss detracted from the meaning or experience of the holiday. On the contrary, rather than spending the day exclusively in backwards-looking repentance (which I do also appreciate, as I actually love Yom Kippur), I was able to spend it looking forward to the new year as a time in which I wanted to incorporate the beauty, gratitude and wonder connected to its beginning.
To me, this meant that the traditional way is not even close to the only way, but rather, that personalized approaches can bring value and renewed meaning to faith and practice. Another blog inspired by the idea is the Wandering Jew, written by Ben Harris, who seems to share my appreciation for adventurous Judaism. He traipsed across the Jewish world and traced his experiences, many of which revolved around learning from non-traditional, and even many non-Jewish, sources. None of this detracts from its value. Similarly, I find that a Jew can experience Judaism even far removed from it.
The Jewish people are by no means a global majority, despite our capacity to maintain a sense of community and collectivity no matter where we may be. But our frequent isolation from the majority around us means that we must also cultivate a personal understanding of faith, one that can manifest itself even far from anything familiar or typically Jewish. By making Judaism my own, I am able to access it anywhere, because it exists within me, rather than as something I need to take in from outside.