Ask Helen: Your Questions Answered

A Wish from Your Jewish Fairy Godmother: May you be written into the Book of life for a year of peace, health and wisdom. And may you share that with the world.

Dear Helen:

It’s the High Holidays again and I feel unsure what to do. I’ve been a secular Jew for decades. I grew up Conservative, became a bar mitzvah in a Reform temple and was married by a rabbi. We sometimes go to a seder or High Holiday services. We don’t have children, so didn’t face the issue of religious education. (My wife is agnostic but would not have objected.) Every year at Rosh Hashanah I want more connection with my late parents’ faith to help me cope in this meshugginah world. But then it fades.

— Outsider

Dear Outsider:

Judaism’s door is always open. You need only walk through it with your heart, your head and your feet.

Simply go to a synagogue. The High Holidays are a tradi- tional time of in-migration for lapsed attendants. Most syna- gogues charge for tickets to High Holiday services, to subsidize ongoing overhead or for rented space to accommodate extra guests. You might also find a service at a local university Hillel.

Another simple action is to start keeping the Sabbath. This can be as simple as lighting candles and saying a prayer for peace. Learn the blessings or say a silent prayer. Either will begin the connection with faith, as long as it comes from your heart.

To be written into the Book of Life is also to be part of what you call “this meshugginah world.” But if we each try to make it less crazy, and less fierce, perhaps it will someday become a less meshugginah place. I hope you can find the High Holiday spirit and bring it into your life, whether you go to shul or just remember what day it is. You’ll find yourself becoming more Jewish, and you’ll integrate that spirit and identity naturally. Your late parents will be praying with and over you.


Dear Helen:

On Yom Kippur I know we are supposed to ask for atone- ment for our sins. My problem is less my sins than the anger and sadness I feel. There are two (former) friends who have hurt me, emotionally and financially. I miss their friendship, but it is very hard to imagine forgiving them. I am carrying a lot of heaviness in my heart because of what they did. I do not trust them, but I also feel like I am missing something very important to me. What should I do?

—Bruised Dear Bruised:

It’s amazing how much heavier an angry or hurt heart is to carry around than a forgiving one. You haven’t given any details of the experience, but clearly it was very painful. Answer this: Is whatever happened worth losing your friends? Either way you answer, you’ll need to find a way to move past both the details and the feelings, or you’ll be carrying around something heavy that no diet will ever cure.

One of the purposes of Yom Kippur is to lighten us. You can use this opportunity to cleanse, to express yourself and to open the door to your friends to do the same. I suspect that they have difficult feelings also, though the two of them may feel the self-righteousness of camaraderie.

I suggest three steps. First, go to synagogue, listen to a broadcast service or just meditate. Take in the idea of atonement and forgiveness. Then write your friends a letter, separately or together. Instead of the details of the situation, talk about the importance of your friendship and how you hope mutual forgiveness will allow the three of you to move forward. Third, suggest a meal together, in a few weeks, to clear the air and begin again. Pray that their hearts are as open as yours, and that they miss you too. Even if a profound reconciliation does not occur, you will feel lighter and better.


A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving, and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and check out the blog at

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