Have a Happy — Meaning a Solemn, Dignified, and Introspective — Yom Kippur

As you may be aware, today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. The point of the holiday, which is considered the most holy on the calendar (well, at least by better Jews that I), is for us Jews to take a day to fast and reflect on our sins and how to be better people in the future. I’m as secular as I come, but I do find something beautiful about the idea of this day (not that the idea of atonement being vitally important is in any way unique to the Jewish faith, of course), since it doesn’t rely on anything supernatural, but on the very basic, easily forgotten acknowledgment that we could all stand to be better people. Thus, I am fasting today, and prepared for the occasion by eating more food than should be humanly possible yesterday.

It’s a bit ramble-y, but I can’t help but like this (sort of) Yom-Kippur-themed Haaretz column by Michael Handelzalts. He writes about his son, who just defended his doctoral thesis in education at the University of Twente in the Netherlands:

The cause of excitement was not only the academic achievement of my son Adam. Indeed, his older brother Jonathan got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology three years ago from Tel Aviv University, and was present as one of the candidate’s “best men” (wearing tails, but no top hats). It was mainly the occasion that overwhelmed us: Unlike similar ceremonies at Israeli universities, conducted with typical informality (involving a never-ending procession of new Ph.D.s shaking a long line of professorial hands), the Dutch university went all out, with frills and thrills of doctoral decorum. A master of ceremonies carrying a wooden staff led the procession of professors and candidate to the stage, and then solemnly tapped the floor three times to mark the beginning of the event, involving impressive verbal exchanges full of appellations like “my learned opponent” and “my distinguished colleague.” The professors then retired to deliberate, before coming back and declaring that there was a new doctor in the house.

If I ever attain an advanced degree, I demand the presence of a learned figure with a staff.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.