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Yom Kippur, Still Single

Yom Kippur, Still Single

I slowly began to realize that Yom Kippur is a gift, not a burden.


Growing up, I often heard Yom Kippur described as the “saddest day of the year,” but I wasn’t sure what the women in my synagogue were crying about. Maybe they felt true remorse for their sins. Maybe they cried because they were begging God for a good year; their heartfelt wishes for the future bringing them to tears.

When I turned ten, I started spending the day with my mother in shul. As we walked there together, she would tell me, “This is your chance to ask for what you want. Whatever you’re going to get this year will be decided today. So it’s important that you pray with a lot of concentration.” I tried to follow her instructions, but as the hours dragged by, I was grateful for my Artscroll machzor, which had lengthy commentaries in English.

My mother thought that she was helping me by giving a purpose to my day. But I ended up with performance anxiety. I worried that if I didn’t do my job properly, I wouldn’t have a good year.

After I graduated high school and started dating, Yom Kippur took on an added urgency. This was the day when things would be decided for the coming year, when God would decide whether to grant me with a husband or not before the next year’s High Holidays. “You have a lot to pray for,” my mother would say. “What time do you plan on getting to shul tomorrow?” my father would ask.

I was beginning to feel uncomfortable in our synagogue. The single girls that sat at our table were all married now, and I thought I detected glances of pity from some of my mother’s friends. It was hard to focus on the prayers with everyone staring at me. The climax of the day came at Neilah. I knew from the many lessons I’d received in school on the subject that this was my last chance to submit my requests before the heavenly gates shut.

“Try to bring yourself to cry,” my teachers said every year. “The gates of Heaven are never closed to tears.”

I don’t cry easily. Watching the women around me sobbing into their machzorim made me wonder if there was something thing wrong with me. I buried my face in my Artscroll and hoped that no one was looking at me too closely.

My relationship with Yom Kippur has evolved over the years. I can’t point to one specific moment when I began thinking differently about the holiday, but slowly I began to realize that Yom Kippur is a gift. It’s a chance for me to go through the painful process of enumerating where I’ve gone wrong in the past year, and emerge on the other side feeling light and free, ready to begin again. This day wasn’t about feeling bad for myself. I had a purpose here. I needed to ask for forgiveness for a year’s worth of mistakes, and I needed to rededicate myself to serving God. Asking for a husband was part of that, but by no means all of it.

I was grateful to realize that the correct approach to Yom Kippur did not involve approaching the day with a mental shopping list. It was day of getting in touch with who I am and my place in the world, accepting what He has given me thus far, and asking for the opportunity to be a part of His world in the coming year.

Even though I know that Yom Kippur is an important, once-a-year opportunity, it can be hard to get into the right mindset. I imagine myself entering shul and heading to my regular seat. There will be girls my age and younger who have gotten married or had children in the past year, while I still look the same. Part of me thinks, “Here we go again. Another Yom Kippur, and I’m still praying for the same thing. God didn’t answer my prayers last year – what makes me think it’ll be any different this time around?”

It would be tragic if I let my loneliness and despair distract me from all I could achieve.

But then I remember. I have work to do, and it would be tragic if I let my loneliness and despair distract me from all I could achieve. If God decides to grant some of my requests, all the better, but I won’t judge the day a success or failure based on that.

This past Yom Kippur, I realized that I wanted to teach in a college program. I had been feeling frustrated and under-stimulated at my job, but didn’t know what to do next. I’d been considering many options, but it never occurred to me to try and teach adults. It seemed like an impossible dream at the time. I couldn’t visualize myself getting up in front of a classroom, and it took me a few months to gather the courage to even apply for the job. Now, almost a year later, I am preparing for my third semester. I’ve enjoyed the experience more than I could have imagined I would. But that flash of inspiration, the sense of direction, of what I could maybe accomplish – that came on Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a day when it’s easier to do the right thing. I don’t eat or drink, and spend most of the day engaged in prayer. All I have to do is open my heart, talk to God, and let Him in.

September 8, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 20

(14) Magda, October 11, 2013 8:00 AM

It Could Be That Marriage Is Not For Everyone

Thanks for sharing, Delia. I have enjoyed reading articles from and yours is certainly one of the greatest sharing!

May G-d Himself grant you comfort in your days to come.


(13) ruthiel, September 21, 2013 8:32 PM

Excellent article

Thanks, really enjoyed that

(12) Bobby5000, September 15, 2013 3:50 PM

What we non-Orthodox Jews don't understand

I think we conservative and Reform Jews understand a good deal about Judaism. Many like me honor Shabbat and go to temple. We like the idea of a close-knit, supportive Jewish community, and of making Tzedakah and observance a central part of your life.

What we don't understand is this seeming preoccupation with early marriage. My youngest son is 23 and my wife and I certainly would not want him to get married at this young age, Marriage requires commitment and has its own pressures and demands. At 26 if you lose your job, you simply look for another one, at 34, you will be answering to a wife 5-10 times each week, what are we going to do, how should the mortage be paid, what are your prospects.

Marriage can be a wonderful thing but to jump into this just to get married makes little sense to us. We feel
the same way about our girls too, have a career, meet people, travel, experience life. Take advantage of your free time. None of us wants promiscuous daughters but we realize the sacrifices women make in a marriage. A women with 2 children may work part-time, take care of a house and cook; the job of a modern women is certainly more imposing than that of her stay at home mother. If you find the right person, that is wonderful and one son at 30 found his soul-mate and they happily go to concerts, museums, parties, with the seeming G-d given gift that they enjoy the same things. But to simply pick someone to spend 2-3,000 hours a year with just to have someone, no we don't get it.

Jacob, September 18, 2013 8:00 PM

the other perspective

Bobby, you list a ton of great things the world has to offer and there's no doubt that someone who lives the life you describe is society's definition of success. i look at the world as something to give to. getting married and raising children is a perfect example of a way to give to the world. i think that's why "orthodox jews" get married (it's also a torah commandment if you like that approach) tzedaka is important, and there's a big difference between giving up 10% of your paycheck and giving up a lot more than 10% of your time. i'm sure a million people could give a better answer so this is just my thought. lshana tova.

scott, September 26, 2013 6:12 PM

Early Marriage? How is 23 early?

The Hasidim say that one should start having kids as soon as possible. If you wait until you're rich, in nine months you could be poor and if your're poor you could be rich in the same time. You can lose your job at any time and anyone can fall behind on the mortgage at any time. Heck we're in our mid forties and we're arguing about that tonight. So you should keep waiting until life is certain? Good luck. As someone who came from a reform background I gotta tell you that from a religious perspective I don't understand your priorities at all. Museums, parties, career, if those things and life itself ends at marriage. How sad. I didn't know that marriage was death. I got married and I travel more than I did before I got married. We go to museums and shows and parties...more than I did when I was single. Heck we moved across the planet just 'cause we could. But because we waited so late to marry, it was harder to have kids and there were complications. We also had such great separate lives that it was and is very hard at times to get on the same page. Had we not bumped into each other, we'd have probably never married at all. And when I was 23 it would have been nice to have someone with which to work through life. Would have probably made better decisions. My mom and dad married at 22 and they're still married at 75. My grandparents married at 20 and are still married at 94. The good ones go early. You see they actually want to be married...that's why they stay that way.

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