People always ask me, what’s the proper greeting for Yom Kippur? So if I see Suzyn Waldman, hurrying out of the WCBS booth at today’s delayed Yankee game to get to services, what should I say? Happy Yom Kippur? Happy Holidays? Seasons Greetings? (Well, it is a season, the season of repentance… but that’s a stretch.)
There are several options. Yom Kippur isn’t a holiday in the secular, Madonna sense. Celebraaaate! It’s a holy day, in the old-timey, Biblical sense. It’s the last piece in a period of reflection that begins over a month before, where we think about ourselves, what we have done wrong, how we can make those wrong things right, and hope that God shows mercy. On Yom Kippur, we fast and spend nearly twenty-four hours in continuous prayer. At the beginning we ask God to inscribe us in the “book of life” a metaphor for forgiving our sins and allowing us to have a good life for another year. At the end of Yom Kippur, the “book” is closed and sealed. So the most traditional greeting is:
Gmar chatimah tovah (Gmahr ha-tee-mah toe-vah) = may your finished sealing be good
That is, may you be sealed in the book of life with a good outcome.
This can be shortened to Gmar tov (gmahr tove), literally, “a good finish,” but really a shorter way of saying the above.
You can also still say, “Shana tova” (shah-nah toe-vah), or, a good new year.
There is also “have an easy fast,” which I’ve inherited a non-fondness for, because my mother used to say, quite rightly, that the point of Yom Kippur is to suffer so that one really turns inward to think of their behavior and past actions. So having an easy fast defeats the purpose, really. She used to say (and others do too), “have a meaningful fast.” Of course, you can cover all bases by saying, “have an easy and meaningful fast.” But it’s perfectly acceptable to go with the standard, “have an easy fast,” and I promise, no Jew will ever answer you, “don’t tell me what kind of fast to have!”
Not to mention, this is all easy for me to say, since I’m on medication that doesn’t allow me to fast. But I’m not eating steak frites either.
Anyhoo, thanks for the good wishes, and thanks to the Yankees for having an early game so Suzyn and I can attend evening services without missing the game. I’d also like to say that I’m sorry for anything I might have done to hurt anyone this year and I hope that you’ll forgive me. In conclusion, clinch early and clinch often.