Yom Kippur 2016

Oct 13, 2016
by Avram / DWTN

By Natalie Cohen


It was a choice to go and a choice to stay. That is how it always feels on the day of atonement, the holiest day of the year.

What it means for us to sacrifice the most common necessity we all have which is to eat and drink in order to enter a highly spiritual place of Tikkun; fixing, repenting, reviewing, returning, releasing.

This is my favorite holiday of all believe it or not. I absolutely love being in the state where my body is allowed a day to stay away from its temptations and just focus on its most precious part, the soul, my inner light, my fears, my community.


The Base and its lovely community committed completely to the journey we embarked on this Yom Kippur. We sang and sang, for our voices to reach our souls, we rejoiced so that we can feel lifted, we glared around and caught each other by our spiritual eyes and sent a warm smile of unity. We held small children and fed the needy. We studied, analyzed and prayed for what seemed like days. We were all in it together, and it couldn't have been any other way. We took Yom Kippur to another level and we forgot perhaps that we were hungry only to commit further to the spiritual plead on this cyclical Jewish train we all decided to embark on.

Jonah, a special prophet, came up into discussion. The short tale of the book of Jonah, that depicts a man, given an order by G-D. Jonah rebels, Jonah repents, Jonah fulfills his order, and then Jonah loses faith, and Jonah is given another chance. We were asked why this story is told and read on Yom Kippur. I don't have any answers but I have thoughts about this. Jonah to some was perceived as a rebel and not a hero, but to me he was the most heroic character that I have learned about in perhaps all of the Torah.

I feel as though we are all here to fulfill our purpose of some sort; I feel as though this is what the Torah really teaches us over and over again. We are reminded to have faith, to believe, to fulfill duties of kindness and charity, to repent and to pray.


In Jonah's case, we met him at his most crucial and pivotal time on his journey. We learn that he was given a commandment by G-D to go to the town of NInveh and tell the wicked people who live there that a horrible thing is coming their way. He is like a sort of climate-change activist asking his fellow humans to change their ways so that we can collectively prevent further damage to our planet. However, Jonah initially refused to fulfill his purpose, and decided to flea by sea, and experience what we call a "bad trip" or the darkest and deepest part of one's spiritual journey. The moment when we feel we have lost ourselves, our faith, our ability to be part of the outer world, and we step into ourselves to confront what fears us most, and for Jonah, perhaps this was his ability to come to terms with his duty and his faith.

I know that I have gone down that dark road, and it seemed like a never ending journey. The story of Jonah does a great job at describing what it feels like to be at that lowest point in life. You basically set off to sea to escape your world and your commitments, only to find yourself passed out in the bottom cabin, insensitive or unprepared for the perfect storm that is about to hit your ship and of course to then get hit by it, and instead of fighting it you keep looking for an escape and you will your life and jump off the ship and get swallowed by a big whale that traps you into having to confront what has gone wrong and what you need to let go of in order to survive. Then you do that hard work, make some realizations, the whale spits you out and you are given another chance at life. But it still feels scary and disappointing because perhaps things didn't go your way, and instead of adapting to the change and the unknown spiral path, you resist with anger and frustration which leads you to lose faith and hope for your life and you find yourself in a desert with no shelter and harsh winds, to get yet another chance to feel the intensity of what this life is and how to find the strength and light in yourself to not give up.

A hero doesn't always have to be the one who saves the day; in this case, Jonah is most heroic to me because he is able to share with us, his inner struggle and journey that took him out of his will to live. He is like a courageous AA participant who comes forth and shares his name. He teaches us that even prophets go through this inner struggle and confusion as to what our purpose is and how to fulfill it with grace. He demonstrates humanity in its ugliest and darkest form, and allows us to feel safe to step out into the world and allow ourselves to get swallowed by a whale and left alone in the desert to repent and face our fears.

In this troubling and like Rabbi Avram repeatedly said " a world of unnecessarily and causeless evil," I encourage us to find the smallest amount of light that is stored inside of ourselves in a very special soul pocket, and to let it guide us to a kinder place towards ourselves and our fellow humans. To let it shine brighter and brighter. To let it connect with all the evil and breathe so that slowly slowly we can overcome even the worst of the worst. To recognize that we are all a past, present or future Jonah and to let ourselves go there into that dark place so that we can SEE our light. And finally I want to share that perhaps the most fulfilling part of my Yom Kippur this year was giving care packages to the homeless on the street who so gracefully received the act of kindness and gave me a true look, breath, or gesture of appreciation.

Gmar hatima tova and thank you to the Base family for bringing so much light into this world.


Natalie Cohen, a recent graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, is a dancer, teacher and student of life based in New York City.