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Jewish Culture

The Side Door

Moshe Unger
Posted 9/10/21

Cantor Tzudik Greenwald makes his way every year from Israel to the Great Synagogue of Frankfurt to be the cantor during Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement in Judaism and is one of its …

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Jewish Culture

The Side Door

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Cantor Tzudik Greenwald makes his way every year from Israel to the Great Synagogue of Frankfurt to be the cantor during Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement in Judaism and is one of its most well-known holidays.

One year, Tzudik finished the services at nightfall, and he stayed around in the synagogue to rest before going home. The packed synagogue of 2000 people emptied out and he was the last person there. After a while, Tzudik headed out to go to his hotel room and break his fast.

Upon making his way out from a side door he sees a man banging at the closed gates of the synagogue. Tzudik went over to him and asked him what the matter is. The man looked at Tzudik with a confused look and asked him, “Where is everybody? Why is the gate closed? Isn’t it Kol Nidrei tonight?” (Kol Nidrei is the service at the onset of Yom Kippur)

Tzudik answered that Kol Nidrei was already on the night before. The man broke down in tears. “How did it happen to me? How did I miss Kol Nidrei?” Tzudik tried to comfort him, but the man wouldn’t hear of anything. The man shared that ever since he was a kid, he went with his father every year to synagogue on Kol Nidrei. When his father passed away, he made him promise that he will continue to do so because this was his only connection to Judaism. And now, he missed Kol Nidrei.

Tzudik heard the man and told him, “You are in good luck tonight. I’m the Cantor and I will do the Kol Nidrei special for you.” After a long day of fasting and leading the prayers, instead of breaking his fast, Tzudik turned around and led the man through the side door into the synagogue. He gave the man a prayer book and he donned his own Talit and tried to make sure that it felt like Kol Nidrei all again.

He started singing and leading the prayer. As he was doing so, he felt a greater spiritual connection than he ever felt in his life even with packed synagogues on the real Kol Nidrei service. When he finished the man embraced Tzudik and told him, “You don’t know what you did for me! You saved my life!”

I saw this story told on video by master storyteller – Rabbi Yoel Gold. Here’s a link if you’d like to watch it as well: https://bit.ly/3A2TX3y (and here is a link to other story videos by Rabbi Gold: https://bit.ly/3niNttY)

I was very moved by the story. First, to see the deep connection of every Jew to his or her heritage - at least with something. Second, as Rabbi Yoel points out at the conclusion of the video, there is always a way back for everyone. Sometimes not through the main door but at least through the side door.

After going through Rosh Hashanah and doing an accounting of our lives, we generally see many things that need improvement; at least I see so in myself. Sometimes the goal of living fully in line with our souls seems very far and impossible to achieve. Yom Kippur’s story is that eventually in one way or another if we start the path of return, we’ll be able to enter. It might be only through a side door, and it might even be a bit late but, if we have the courage to start with what is within reach, we’ll eventually be there.

Comments? Email me: moshe@mosheunger.com.

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