How Donuts Influenced My Judaism

September 18, 2013Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE

As I took a short walk last week during a break between Yom Kippur services, a memory, both humorous and deeply emotional, flooded my heart.

I realized that my rebellion against fasting began as a teen. That rebellion was supported by an adult who was a very influential person to me, especially in my teen years.

It won’t be a surprise to many that as a teen I was a “temple geek.” I loved being at temple with my friends, in youth group, in religious school and Hebrew High. But I was also a normal teen who tried to ditch classes during break and who got bored during High Holidays services.

My parents, very active in the congregation had lots of friends in the community, many of whom I had grown up with. One dear friend, Warren Estrin (z”l), was often an usher during those High Holidays services. He too got restless and, dare I say, bored.

One Yom Kippur, as I got up to take yet another walk, Warren pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” We quietly exited the sanctuary, climbed into his car, and drove around the corner… to the donut shop. 

Thus began a short-lived ritual (until I left for college) and a decades long source of connection and inside jokes.

As irreverent as Warren and I were in those brief moments when we snuck away, they actually had a tremendous impact on my connection to Judaism and our Jewish community. Those moments together at Winchell’s Donuts over chocolate old-fashioneds and apple fritters were moments in which Warren reached out to me like an uncle, like an adult who cared and wanted to support me. We talked about my life and what was important to me, we talked about my relationships with friends and peers, we talked about what these holy days meant to us.

Remembering these times now raises mixed emotions. I am sad – because Warren is no longer with us. I am nostalgic – for those more spontaneous days of my youth. And I am hopeful – hopeful that I can take the example that Warren set for me in reaching out and making the difference in the life of a young Jewish teen.

Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, RJE is an expert in educating and engaging teens and young adults within institutions of Jewish learning. She is the editor of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Sacred Choices: Adolescent Relationships and Sexual Ethics curricula. She blogs at Rabbi Laura, where this post originally appeared.

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