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First Draft

Envisioning a rabbi’s struggle to write an original Yom Kippur sermon

Shalom Auslander
September 16, 2010
Jonathon Rosen
Jonathon Rosen
Jonathon Rosen
Jonathon Rosen

— I don’t know, this just isn’t working.
— You’re being too hard on yourself, Dear.
— It feels obvious.
— What’s obvious about it?
— I feel like I’ve heard it all before. I want to surprise people, I want to make them think, you know? It’s the Yom Kippur sermon, Hon, it’s the biggest sermon of the year. Packed house. I really want to knock it out of the park.
— Remember what Hemingway said, Dear: The first draft of anything is shit.
— I thought Rashi said that. What am I going to do?
— Did you mention the Holocaust?
— Everyone mentions the Holocaust.
— The Inquisition?
— Old news.
— Pogroms?
— You see? You see what I mean? There’s nothing new, nothing fresh.
— What about Iran? It’s very timely. You could do your whole “Iran/ I ran” thing, about running from God, running from punishment. I really liked that one the last time you did it.
— That wasn’t me.
— It wasn’t?
— No.
— Who was that?
— Silverberg.
— Oh.
— You always like Silverberg’s sermons.
— That’s not true.
— It is true.
— Don’t make this about me, Dear.
— “I ran from Hashem, so Hashem is using Iran to punish me.” Jesus Christ. Do you remember his Yom Kippur sermon last year? “If we learn from it, we can turn it from a Hollow-caust to a fuller-caust.”
— I liked that.
— I need a drink.
— Don’t start that again.
— Just get me a goddamn drink.


— “… and by looking at ourselves and admitting our sins, we can find inner joy, and find true happiness, and then we can turn Yom Kippur into Yom Chipper.” What do you think?
— Chipper?
— Chipper. You know—happy, upbeat.
— Oh.
— It’s crap.
— It’s not.
— Of course it is. “Yom Chipper.”
— You remember what Maimonides said: Writer’s block is just high expectations.
— I thought that was William Stafford.
— I like Yom Stripper.
— Yom Stripper?
— Isn’t that what you said?
— I said Yom Chipper. What the hell is Yom Stripper?
— Yom Chipper, then.
— What the hell is Yom Stripper? Do you even listen to me anymore? Maybe if I was Rabbi Silverberg you would listen.
— Don’t make this about me, Dear.
(awkward silence)
— You really like Yom Stripper?
— It’s cute.
— … “And so this Yom Kippur, if we bare our souls, and remove our …” Oh, for God’s sake.


— So?
— I think it’s good, Dear.
— Do you really?
— It’s different.
— I wanted it to be different. I wanted to do something totally new and unexpected, you know?
— I think it’s really good.
— Who’s the shul president these days? I’m going to call him. Is it still Dr. Hammer?
— No, it’s Dr. Pleeter.
— Hand me the phone. (dials) Dr. Pleeter? Rabbi Rosen here. Ha ha, yes, it certainly is. Listen, I want to run this past you. It’s my sermon for Yom Kippur. I’m going with “Don’t repent.” Hear me out. Everyone does “you’re sinners, you’re at fault, feel bad,” well, I’m going the other way. I’m saying no more fear, no more living in terror. If anyone’s been punished enough, it’s us Jews, am I right? So, to hell with this—go home! Have a big meal and a glass of wine. No more fasting, no more chest-beating—if anyone should ask for forgiveness, it’s God. This should be God’s Day of Atonement, not ours. Stop feeling so bad, stop beating yourself up. I have this whole thing about fasting—about how the only thing you shouldn’t eat today is your heart out. (pause) Uh huh. (pause) Right. (pause) Well, I think that … (pause). I think you’re making a bit much of the whole … no, no, I was really, I mean what I meant was that, sort of a feel—good kind of a … (pause) of course, yes, I … well, I had this whole “Yom Chipper” thing … no, I mean, if you feel that strongly … yes, of course … yes, I like that … sure, yes, yes, of course … no, I think you have a point … sure, OK … right … yes … see you then. Bye.
— What’d he say?
— He wants something about the Holocaust.
— What about it?
— He liked Silverberg’s whole Hollow-caust thing.
— I liked that, too.
— Thought I could throw in a line or two about Iran.
— It’s very timely.
— How about: If we’re not in a God mood, we’ll get Mach—mood.
— Mach—mood?
— Ahmadinejad.
— I like that.
— Yeah?
— Yeah, that’s good.
— Yeah, it is. I think it can work.
— Of course it can.
— You think?
— I really like it.
— Me, too.
— Phew.
— Right?
— That was a close one.
— I knew you’d get it.

Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament, Hope: A Tragedy, and most recently Mother for Dinner. His new memoir, Fehwill be published this July. He writes The Fetal Position on Substack, so make that seven Nazis.

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