Growing up, the High Holidays were that time of year when our parents made us wear the fanciest dress or suit in our closet and sit through long services while sitting so far back in the room, you questioned if the rabbi was even on the bimah (stage). The trade-off was you got two nights of your parents' or grandparents' finest cuisine (assuming you survived your family meals).
In our 20s, nobody is forcing us to go to services anymore (guilting us, perhaps, but not forcing …) and sometimes even a family meal isn't nearby. Suddenly, we realize how much life has changed, which coupled with how introspective Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, leads us to ask ourselves some questions.
In hopes of preparing you for the inevitable, here are five scenarios all too common for 20-somethings during the Days of Awe.
Wondering if you're a "Good Jew"
Despite the fact that being "good" or "bad" is not really a Jewish concept at all, this seems to be the time when everyone questions their spirituality. As a result, this moment creates one of three scenarios: 1) You make a promise to yourself that you know you aren't going to keep, but do it anyway because you feel like you should; 2) You embrace your "badness" by doing something that feels taboo (such as not fasting on Yom Kippur) and using the High Holidays as a time to rebel against your childhood or 3) Jewish guilt overtakes you and you decide to change things up. This could be anything from keeping kosher to participating in YLD's LEADS like your mom always bugs you about.
Having to explain the state of your life struggles
If the High Holidays mean being reunited with family, the joy you have from getting the best home-cooked meal you've had in months suddenly becomes a line of interrogation. Nobody ever explained that graduating college required hiring a PR agency to explain why you aren't in graduate school or why you're still single. When you try to defend yourself, your "Tinder culture" argument falls on deaf ears as every relative suddenly thinks they're Patti Stanger and wants to suggest "the perfect match" for you. Where's the swipe left button when you need it?
The unfortunate run-in
The person you thought you'd never see again when you graduated is literally the first person you see in shul. Either they are also visiting home or happened to move to Lakeview (because where else to 20-something singles go for the High Holidays when they're not at home?) and spot you before you can avoid them. Maybe this is a friend you had a falling out with over a decade ago, or maybe even an ex. Whatever happened, they're the last person you want to see and you have a lump in your throat. Suddenly, the focus you originally intended for prayer drifts toward this person. Perhaps this is what the Day of Judgment is really about?
The rabbi's sermon
The rabbi will almost certainly touch on at least one of the following subjects: 1) Why you should give more money to the shul; 2) An extremely controversial political opinion or 3) New beginnings/praying for mercy before our fate is sealed. If you find yourself listening to all three, then congratulations -- you hit the sermon jackpot. These are the most uncomfortable moments of the never-ending service. To top things off, the usual "two Jews, three opinions" stereotype suddenly becomes five opinions and the last 45 minutes you really didn't want to hear to begin with becomes the subject of a two-hour conversation at your dinner table.
Inexplicable excitement about the shofar
You know the shofar is coming. You've heard it every year during High Holiday services and yet, you still have the same reaction to the shofar service that you had when you were six. Perhaps it's the one point where you feel nostalgic about spending the high holidays with your family, or maybe you just like shofars. Even if you decided to rebel and sleep through most of services, you set your alarm just to hear the same blasts you hear every year. It's like the Jewish version of fireworks.