By James Masters
September 13, 2013
I wrote this article last year but with Yom Kippur once again falling on a Friday night and ending Saturday night, thought it was worth giving it another plug.
Yom Kippur – the day where there’s no water, no food and worst of all, no football.
Old men with beards muttered to themselves, the girls in the gallery looked at me and then quickly turned the other way once I caught them staring and then there was the drone of the Rabbi’s sermon.
I couldn’t cope – and my parents knew.
“Don’t think about the scorer…just think about the Torah,” is what my father said as he looked down into my puppy dog eyes.
From sundown on Kol Nidre which takes place tonight (FRI), the eve of Yom Kippur, Jews across the world fast for 25 hours as they ask G-d for repentance and to enshrine them in the Book of Life.
Those who have been angelic and holy, which rules most of us out, get a free pass from the heavenly authorities on this Day of Atonement.
Those who have been truly awful are put down for punishment and those who are somewhere in between, which is most of us, must hope our repentance saves us from the wrath of the Lord.
So on Friday night and Saturday, I will begin my quest to repent for all those sins that I committed. No big ones – although I’m sure my better half would be glad to point out any I may have missed.
But there’s a sting in the tale – one that despite my 29 years I still struggle in the same way that I did when I was 13.
Forget that no food or water will pass my lips for 24 hours, that I won’t be able to wash, brush my teeth or spray on that scent which has the women in the synagogue gallery weak at the knees. No, there’s a far greater problem.
You see, when Yom Kippur occurs on a Saturday, us Jews who are not normally as strictly observant, have a problem. With it being the holiest day of the year, many Jews will not use any power, electric and turning on a cell phone is out of the question.
That means that while the stomach begins to churn around 3pm on a Saturday, the mind begins to wrestle with notion of
God, repentance, chicken soup and the latest score.
I’m not a religious man. I keep quite a few laws but I’m not a black hat wearer, I don’t keep the Sabbath and I wouldn’t class myself as Jewish in a religious way but in a more cultural way.
But on Yom Kippur I don’t violate a single law and that’s tough – particularly when Orient are playing.
I’ve tried everything from asking a neighbour to leave a note outside the Synagogue with the scores on to hoping to overhear a conversation in the foyer.
I’ve thought about walking past the pub on the corner or relying on a less observant member of the community for news, which in the past has proved disastrous.
One year, I sat through an entire day of prayers battling with my powers of concentrating and trying with all my might not to drift off into thinking about Orient’s game at Scunthorpe.
Instead of Moses at Sinai I was thinking about Moses Odubajo at Glanford Park.
I doubt God has ever actually set foot in Scunthorpe and my mind should not have been there either for as I was drifting away from the Lord and towards thoughts of Kevin Lisbie, a messenger appeared.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You lost 3-0.”
I’d spent the entire day praying and we’d lost 3-0. I was furious. Why had G-d done this? What was the point of me praying if God, who was busy dealing with war, famine, drought and disease, couldn’t even help Orient win at Scunthorpe?
I buried my head in my prayer shawl. Once the fast ended, I ate a bagel (some stereotypes are true) and went to bed without checking a report, league table or a tweet.
The next morning I arose sullen, bleary eyed and still resentful. I’d prayed hard, felt genuine remorse for the sins I had committed and yet still felt let down. I sat down at the breakfast table and braved the newspaper. I opened the sports section and slowly flicked through until I saw the League One scores.
Then something happened. The Sunday Times had got the score wrong. It read “Scunthorpe 2 Leyton Orient 3.” I was bewildered, befuddled even.
I checked the internet; it also had it wrong, “Scunthorpe 2 Leyton Orient 3”. One by one, I checked every website to see that I had been fooled; it was a joke. I had been lampooned.
I had taken it out on God when God had delivered the very thing I had sought. Perhaps the ‘O’ in God really was for Orient like the Rabbi had said (he didn’t say that). I felt embarrassed, slightly ashamed and incredibly childish as if I’d just had a big temper tantrum because I didn’t get what I wanted.
And yet, I know I’m not the only one who struggles on Yom Kippur. If you’re in Synagogue tomorrow, take a look around at just after 3pm and you’ll see people twitching from behind their prayer books, taking quick glances across the room to the man by the door, who always seems to know the score.
There’s the way a known Spurs fan enters the Synagogue late in the afternoon with a smile plastered across his face or how the Arsenal supporter with the club’s badge emblazoned on his kippah (skullcap) sits almost silently in the best seat in the house.
And then there’s me. Sitting there trying to be a good Jewish boy, my prayer shawl over my head, my eyes fixed on the Hebrew text and all I can think of is “I wonder if the manager went 4-4-2” instead of “pray more Jew”.
Tomorrow (SAT), I’ll be facing the same scenario when Orient, who are enjoying the best start to a season in their 132-year history, face the might of Port Vale, who probably won’t have too many supporters in Synagogue.
This irks me because somewhere in my mind I believe that if I begin to think about the football that the Almighty will punish me and hit Orient with a plague of Port Vale goals. I should be listening to the story of Jonah and the Whale instead of Jamie Jones against the Vale.
Try as hard as I might, I find it nearly impossible to concentrate. Did we win? Who scored? Then I hear the voice which every Jewish man regularly hears inside his head, that of his mother or wife, they screech the same, “why aren’t you doing what you’re supposed to?”
And yet for some reason, I believe this year will be different. I’m finally beginning to realise that G-d probably doesn’t care about Orient and if the Lord is omniscient then my thoughts are not hidden and are exposed for what they are.
It is irrational, it is immature and it is not something which I’m proud of…but if G-d can get us three points tomorrow then I’ll promise not to worry about the scorer and concentrate on the Torah.