Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yom Kippur and "The Day the Market Crashed"

Six years ago a short story appeared in a little magazine called The Iconoclast. Its title: “The Day the Market Crashed.” It takes place in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, and while the market is indeed falling off a cliff on that day, the story is about a more personal but no less wrenching crisis that involves the family of a synagogue member.

As I sat in synagogue on Yom Kippur two weeks ago, against the backdrop of economic distress, heartache and panic, I couldn’t help but think of that story. On the Day of Atonement, we confess our sins and plead for God’s mercy. We recognize that worldly possessions and accomplishments mean little. And we acknowledge that life and death are not in our hands. Like a shepherd examining his flock, the liturgy proclaims, God will examine the soul of each person who passes before him, deciding who will live and who will die, who will be afflicted and who will be comfortable, who will be enriched and who impoverished.

Ordinarily, Yom Kippur is just about my favorite day of the year, the only day when I come close to shutting off the world around me. The fast is not an ordeal for me, neither are the long hours in synagogue. And the palpable sense of community that builds throughout the day and reaches an emotional climax in the Ne’ilah prayers never fails to move and inspire me.

And yet, like the people in “The Day the Market Crashed,” this year I could not block all thoughts about everyday life—the life of homes, jobs, money and obligations. And I’m guessing I was not alone. When the normal gives way to the unprecedented, it is natural to become obsessed. It’s the mind’s way of dealing with danger, perhaps a throwback to a time when danger was life-threatening, and obsession a key to survival.

Still,even in a time of tumult, Yom Kippur did not lose its special power. Yes, other thoughts intruded, but in the end it was the long interludes of reflection and the sense of belonging that prevailed. It was nourishing to share the day with friends and family, to give smiles and get hugs, to hear laughter as we tried to cope with loss. It made the solemn work of repentance and renewal not only bearable but urgently necessary.

When I wrote “The Day the Market Crashed” I had in mind that life often brings comedy in tandem with tragedy. Rereading it the other day gave me a chuckle or two. Perhaps it will do the same for you. If you are interested, you can find the story by going to and following the link to “other works” on the home page.

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