Yom Kippur is referred to in the book of Leviticus as sabbath of sabbaths, and the double use of the word communicates a completely restful Shabbat, the Shabbat of all Shabbats. Rosh Hashana, the 7 days in between, and Yom Kippur are a time of reflecting on our lives. We literally pause, stop in our tracks, to assess, and recalibrate. The prayers, songs, and time in community are all ways to support our process of deep reflection — and in that time of suspension, we experience what the Torah understands to be a Shabbat shabbaton, a time of complete rest.
Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote a profound and beautiful piece in the New York Times in mid August 2015, just weeks before his death. In it he speaks about the Sabbath of his childhood, and then the rupture, the complete lack of acceptance and the hatred he faced when he shared his homosexuality with his parents as a teenager. He reflects on how over a lifetime the world changed, also the Orthodox world, and how he came to make peace. The peace of the Sabbath becomes his ultimate metaphor for death, after a long, productive, and fulfilling life. In this piece we witness the power of his journey, and the ways in which a person might return to religious concepts to help make sense of life and perhaps find deeper meaning in the rhythm of life and death. It is not surprising that Yom Kippur is also seen by the rabbis as a sort of rehearsal for death, so great is the hiatus.
Sack’s writing, and his death so soon after, challenge us to look around and make sure that other LGBT seniors who might be approaching the last stages of life also find acceptance and love, and have the opportunity to find peace. This fall, thanks in part to the generosity of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, HSL will offer for the first time a Clinical Pastoral Education program focused on the care of LGBT elders. In addition, throughout HSL, we are working on inclusion and acceptance through community education and programming. In our senior communities there should not only be peace and friendship, but fulfillment and love, and appreciation based on the work of a week, and the work of a lifetime.
There has been tremendous change in the world related to the acceptance and full inclusion of LGBT people, but there is still much to do and especially for elders who suffered through decades of injustice and alienation. Religious institutions and traditions spurned LGBT people and as spiritual caregivers for elders we have the challenge and the opportunity to bear witness to the pain, and to open the door to return if it is wanted. We need to see if it is possible in the face of indelible injury to help another create a new peace.
On this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur may we all experience the blessing of a fresh start and look forward to a year of new possibilities.