September 17, 2013 by Katia

On Saturday last week we’ve celebrated Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. Being away from home has changed the way in which I celebrate the Jewish holidays. It obliterated some family traditions and introduced confusion. This year I wanted it to really feel the way it should. I didn’t want it to be all about the fasting. I wanted it to be about soul searching and making amends.

Most of my life is spent in “conflict avoidance” mode, therefore I can tell you with almost a hundred percent certainty that I did not deliberately hurt anyone. Except.

We’re all wired differently. When I think about this the terms “civilizations clash” and “lists” come to mind. The first one is the title of a well-known and widely discussed book (which I haven’t read) and the second is a word I’ve learned in a workshop I attended ten years ago. We’ve all heard about the clash of civilizations. “Lists” carry the same destructive potential but on a smaller scale. Or maybe bigger, depends how you look at it. Lists are the many components of our mental, internal credo formulated through the values, views and perceptions passed on to us by our parents, life experiences, personal tragedies and triumphs. Civilizations have their lists too but often one civilization’s list contradict the other one’s and that is when they clash. The same thing can happen between a husband a wife who were raised to admire opposing values. Both good people who are trying to do the right thing, but were shown two very different paths to get there. So there you have it. Your very own private civilization clash.

When Four-Year-Old was born I spoke strictly Russian to him for over a year. 37 Year Old and I speak Hebrew amongst ourselves and he speaks Hebrew to both our children. When 4 Year Old started daycare his Russian vocabulary was knocked out and replaced by the English one. He still understands Russian. He understands Hebrew as well and speaks some. In referring to these languages he calls English “my language” Russian “your language” and Hebrew “Abba’s language”*.

I’m sorry for the times I’ve used the wrong dictionary, the one with my language, to figure you out, 37 Year Old.

When I was a child in Israel and spoke Russian to my family and Hebrew to the kids around me, it seemed very logical to assume that kids had a language of their own. It happened to be Hebrew.

I’m sorry I forget how to think like a child and get impatient with you more often than I should, Four Year Old.

When Four Year Old was born my life was turned upside down. I went out of my way to make things special for him. When 1 Year Old was born my life was turned upside down again, but often times when I tried to take the ‘go out of my way’ path just to make things special for him I was distracted by vigorous waving from another nearby path accompanied by ‘me, me!’.

I’m sorry I couldn’t get you to experience exclusivity, 1 Year Old.

When I left my mom, grandma and grandma’s sister behind me in Israel I was consumed with the guilt of an only child leaving the women who raised her so selflessly behind. That preoccupation did not leave much room for other thoughts, like the one about leaving another only child, my mom, to take care of two very mature ladies who have come to rely entirely, physically and emotionally, on her in the next few years.

I’m sorry I am not there doing what I’m supposed to be doing, giving back to them. Sorry I don’t send enough photos, mom.

* Abba = Dad in Hebrew

** Thank you, my friend Lizzi at Considerings for the beautiful insight in directing me to Nirvana’s All Apologies, now the post is complete.

41 thoughts on “Atonement

  1. You’re a beautiful person!

  2. all this, and yet, and yet, we try so hard to cope with the ups and downs of life in the only ways we know how – often based upon the (flawed?) ways we were taught as children. We cling to opposing traditions, we manage in different ways, we clash, we talk, we understand and adapt. But sometimes life just runs roughshod and all we can do is cling on, reach out where possible, and hope to make a connection.

    We can’t change the past, and we can rarely change the present, but we can do our best. So don’t beat yourself up, and make sure you send your Mum some photos 🙂

    You’re a good’un 🙂

    • Katia says:

      We do. We’re fully aware, yet these taught behaviours are often so much stronger than anything else, than reason. Thank you for this beautiful comment.

  3. This is an interesting reflection on atonement. Having grown up speaking only English, surrounded by people who only speak English, I had never given much thought to ownership of a language until I got into situations where no one spoke my mother tongue. However, I have thought of how to teach Spanish and French to my children from a young age, to give them the advantages I didn’t have. I’m not sure how it will work, seeing as my husband’s only language is English (I don’t want him to feel left out).
    As for giving back to prior generations, I still have much of my own atonement to make…

  4. Dana says:

    I was thinking about you this weekend, Katia – wondering how much different it must be for you to observe Yom Kippur in Canada than it was in Israel. Once we became mothers there just seems to be so much more to atone for, doesn’t there?

  5. Yvonne says:

    This is interesting on many levels. You’ve got me thinking about language, and it must be amazing to speak 3 completely different languages so fluently. It’s so interesting the way your son sees you all as “owning” a different language.

    Your thoughts on atonement are interesting too. I think your point that we are all wired differently is such an important one and was thinking about this over the weekend in fact – about how I could say something without meaning to cause any hurt, yet it could be interpreted as hurtful because of what someone else carries with them – the meanings they have learned to things that I learned different meanings about. So we can never be sure someone else will not feel hurt by what we say. And it’s nobody’s fault, but we can still feel regret and so say sorry, just as you’ve done here.

  6. mysending says:

    I do think there is a profound difference for sadness/feeling sorry about something and the need to atone for something wrong. We are at once attached to everyone and separate. Your mother must surely be very proud of you, even if she does demand/deserve more photos! But atoning for things that we did wrong stands apart from sadness for the things that aren’t what other people expect. And yes, we always need to be thinking and working on what we can do to make things and our relationships better.

  7. So poignant and insightful. I think the idea of a “culture clash / civilization clash” in a relationship is incredibly insightful. And you should write an entire post about that, that’s separate from atonement. I think of myself as more Canadian than anything… but every once in a while, and post-children, more often that I could have imagined, my very-Canadian-and-nothing-but life partner and I will have what’s clearly a cultural clash over everything from germs to privacy expectations in the bathroom…

  8. Roshni says:

    So interesting that ‘Abba’ means father in Hebrew! I have Muslim friends who address their dad as Abba and their mom as Ammi.

  9. Sarah says:

    Beautiful, Katia…. And I am so amazed that you speak three different languages! What a gift for your children, too, to learn these languages. Each language has its own logic, its own mode of thinking, and I think it helps children to learn those inner worlds.
    And such a lovely meditation on atonement. I like Huston Smith’s description of atonement as “at-one-ment” – at one with the divine, with family…. and so much of what you write here is about wanting to not clash, but to merge, to be “at one,” to atone…. just lovely 🙂

  10. Jean says:

    The language caught me first. I taught at a school that emphasized dual language instruction (Spanish and English) and when my partner teacher knew that she really needed to emphasize to a child (native language Spanish) that they had misbehaved, she switched into Spanish. It always hit home with them more because it is the language of, well, home, heart, family.

    I want to apologize everyday to my mother for taking my children away from her and it’s a delicate balance between that guilt and the absolute certainty that our move was the best for them. So hard, Katia. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be half the world away from them.

    • Katia says:

      It’s fascinating for me to hear about how your school operated, I’m realizing that I must have had some misconceptions on the educational system in North America, because I was genuinely (very pleasantly) surprised to learn that teachers would take that approach of addressing children in mother tongue, or first language, which makes total sense. I don’t think I’ve imaged the educational system to be that flexible. This is terrific. You are terrific.

      As for our moms, I tell myself we have to live our life looking forward not backward. They understand, but it doesn’t make it easier, I know.

  11. Sarah Almond says:

    I marvel at the fact that speaking more than one language is simply part of your life. I would have loved to grow up at least bilingual. I worked at a preschool with many women from India and Russia, and was amazed to learn how they had different languages for different things. My upbringing-it pales in comparison!

    I’m not familiar with a lot of Jewish traditions. While I’ve heard the words before, I did not know that is what Yom Kippur is, a day of atonement. Fascinating…

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Sarah for this lovely comment! You’re right, speaking three languages doesn’t feel like an achievement, but just part of my life since I did learn them as a child. I kind of feel more like it’s my mom’s achievement for persevering through my reluctance. I’m so glad I was able to explain Yom Kippur a little bit better. 🙂

  12. Yom Kippur is such a beautiful tradition – “soul searching and making amends”. It’s clear from reading this post that you done both this year in the deep, reflective and thoughtful way that I have come to expect of you.

  13. Jen says:

    I’m crying. You write so beautifully about your life and culture. You really are an inspiration. I have found it very difficult to write from my heart lately because my heart is so heavy. For me, my sorry goes to God for not trusting him completely. Thank you for reminding me, and letting me cry while the boy is sleeping.

  14. This is a beautiful post, Katia. I also didn’t know what Yom Kippur was, so thank you for explaining it. I am from a completely different background, but I too live in “conflict avoidance” mode most of the time. This post is actually pretty timely for me, because I was just discussing something similar with my counselor last week — about how no matter what you say or do, it can be interpreted by someone else as good or bad based on the way they process it, based on their experiences and core beliefs. So if we need to say or do something to keep ourselves from hurting, we should do it. It’s really eye-opening to think that way, and I too feel guilty for not seeing other people as they are, but through my own narrow lens. Anyway, great post; you have a wonderful heart. 🙂

    • Katia says:

      Oh, Jessica, thank you so much for this wonderful comment. It warms my heart to think that what I wrote resonates with you. Your discussion with your counsellor and the conclusion you came to make perfect sense to me, although as “conflict avoiders” sometimes hard to implement, I know. A big thank you again for this heart-warming comment and a hug.

  15. […] On Saturday last week we’ve celebrated Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. Being away from home has changed the way in which I celebrate the Jewish holidays. It obliterated some family traditions and introduced confusion.  […]

  16. Beautiful, Katia! I didn’t know you spoke so many languages either. This is such unique take on this topic. My son goes to a Jewish preschool, even though we aren’t Jewish. I love how he’s learning about another tradition, another set of holidays. He knows many Jewish songs already. He’s even going to be learning a bit of Hebrew starting this year!

  17. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    That is fascinating, Katia! I truly cannot conceptualize how the different languages serve as both a metaphor for understanding one another as well as its own entity- a literal different language that is being spoken. I think people who are bilingual/trilingual/more must really be using more of their brains than the rest of us. Also- I am wondering how you felt after writing this? Any lighter?

    • Katia says:

      I don’t know if lighter, but definitely more aware. I’ve lost my patience again today. 4 Year Old is constantly testing me now. At the end of the day I looked back at my behaviour and talked to myself about responding differently. Not going to let myself off the hook as easily.

  18. findingninee says:

    Absolutely beautiful post. My step-mom is Jewish and I remember the first year that she came up to me, held my face in her hands and said something like “If I have done wrong by you this year, or have done anything to offend you, I want you to know that I am sorry. I love you and hope that you will forgive me.” In fact, I’m tearing up just remembering. Such a powerful and wonderful and important holiday. I love this post. I love that you speak three languages (I took four years of French and do not speak it).
    I also would like to know the answer to Stephanie’s question – do you feel lighter? I hope so. Happy Yom Kippur, friend. You are a lovely and wonderful person.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, my dear! It’s funny, I’ve responded to Steph and come to think of it I feel even heavier now with the extra weight of accountability for my actions, but I know I’ll feel lighter eventually.

  19. I always find learning about different cultures/religions to be so fascinating. I live in a very predominant Catholic city and we all speak English,
    I cannot fathom uprooting my family and going somewhere completely different and having to intertwine ways.
    I just want you to know, that even though we all are “different” we are all very much the same in our feelings, the guilt we have over parenting….etc.
    You’re a good mom. You really are.
    Love this perspective friend.

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