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The Lows of the High Holidays

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As a kid, I always knew where to be for the high holidays. I would be in my seat in synagogue, with an occasional respite for “bathroom” breaks that devolved into 20 minute games of freeze tag. I know, lying to my parents is wrong. But it gave me something for which to repent.

Now that I’m an adult (physically, anyway), the choice is much harder. My parents are now divorced, giving me two options. Plus I’m engaged, adding a third. I’d consider a fourth option of spending the day with no parents at all, but we are SUPPOSED to suffer on Yom Kippur.

Before all the parents reading this (especially my own) get mad, remember that you said the same things about your parents. It’s Jewish tradition. Like the youngest child reading the four questions on Passover or everyone on JDate having a picture taken of themselves at a deceptively perfect angle, it is what we do. It is our right to complain about the burden of our parents, almost as much as it is their right to guilt trip us that they don’t complain about the burden of their children. It’s a great system.

I recognize that I am blessed to have parents and soon-to-be in-laws that want to see me, let alone who live within 45 minutes of me. But it creates the unfortunate reality of picking one while insulting the others. And the choice is not easy.

I went to my mom’s synagogue when I was in high school, so there are a bunch of people I am happy to see, mixed with a number of ancient people who claim to remember me from when I was 17 but offer no substantiating proof.

“I don’t remember you being this tall!”

In fairness, they also don’t remember my name, or what they had for dinner the day before.

I went to my dad’s synagogue until my Bar Mitzvah, making the memory loss among those who remember me even more prevalent. Like my mom’s shul, it’s a mixed bag. Some people I love catching up with; but for others, there’s a reason we stopped keeping in touch the day I became a man.

I have been to my fiancée’s synagogue a few times, so I don’t know anyone there, which still doesn’t prevent the inevitable uncomfortable moment, since all they know about me is what I do for a living.

“So, you’re the comedian?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me a joke.”

“But it’s Yom Kippur.”

“Come on, just one!”

“Okay. Two Jews walk into a bathroom, and have a galatically awkward conversation at a urinal. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.”

Between the three days of holiday, we can spend one day with each parental unit. But then my fiancée is spending two of the three with my parents instead of hers, and someone gets stuck with the somber Yom Kippur instead of the joyous Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur may be the most important day of the year, but it’s also the day when I complain the most. I spend 24 and a half hours hungry, followed by two hours complaining about my usual impatience-induced food coma. See? I’m only physically an adult.

My solution is going to have to be to alternate years. One year we’ll spend it with her parents. One year we’ll alternate between my parents. And I guess we’ll have to alternate who gets Rosh Hashanah, and who spends a day with Captain Complainer. The complicated nature of this is frustrating – I feel like I’m a baseball team planning which ridiculous and over commercialized jerseys to wear on alternate Sundays (which is something they should atone for).

So mom, dad, other mom, other dad – know that wherever we spend the holidays, we do wish we lived in a world where we could see everyone all the time. But since that’s not the case, you’ll just have to accept us being wandering Jews. That, too, is Jewish tradition.

And for those who will predictably ask me to tell them a joke, here is my favorite synagogue-friendly street joke. I don’t know where this joke originated, and I can’t take credit for it, but feel free to enjoy.

An aging rabbi has begun doubting the existence of God. As a test, he fakes an illness to sneak out of Rosh Hashanah services, and goes golfing. On his first swing, he gets a hole in one.

Dropping to his knees, the rabbi says, “God, I have been waiting forty years to get a hole in one. And now it comes on Rosh Hashanah, and after I lied to my family and friends. I would suspect that if you did exist, you’d have punished me.”

“I did,” God answers. “Who are you going to tell?”

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been seen on VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central®, but you’re more likely to have seen him on the last Barbara Walters Special.

*Comedy Central is a registered trademark of Comedy Partners, a wholly-owned division of Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks.

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One Comment »

  • Rick Hirsch says:

    Steve, the main characters in the Days of Awe are you and God. As you probably know, guilt is most worthless commodity available as well as a negative motivator. That double whammy should help you see the reality of your situation with a formulated new perception–the Steve Hofstter Midrash on Torah. I abhor the idea of paying to pray, and have foucsed much of my observances in my home. I love God and God loves me. He wants me to be as observant as I can, but not to the extent that I cannot decipler between the right choices and the best choices. I love the old Yiddish proverv that said, “Don’t take no bull shit.” For your sitution, I would state it like this: “Honor thy father and thy mother, and don’t take no bull shit from anybody.”

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