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A trip to Munich during Yom Kippur changed this woman's view of her religion

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yom Kippur ends this evening, and we wanted to reflect on the holiday. Writer and educator Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer wrote about her connection to the day in a recent essay titled "My Yom Kippur Experience In Germany Broke My Heart Open."

It was 1990. She was 19 years old, studying abroad in the Netherlands. Some of her friends wanted to go to Oktoberfest in Munich, and she decided to go with them.

GABRIELLE KAPLAN-MAYER: Now, in my mind, I was hoping later that at some point in the semester, I would go and explore in Germany. I knew that that's where my grandfather was from, and I knew that's where the family that he lost was from. And I was deeply connected to his story and to our family's story, but I just hadn't gotten that far yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAPLAN-MAYER: I was in a phase in my life where, you know, I was not interested in religion in any formal way. I definitely considered myself a spiritual person. But I just thought, I'm not going to celebrate Yom Kippur this year. I'm just going to have fun with my friends. And something about the experience of being there in Germany - being in the land where my grandfather was raised, that he had to flee from - it all hit me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAPLAN-MAYER: I just felt full of a desire to go, to be in synagogue on Yom Kippur. And so I got up early. I left my friends. I didn't speak German. I hopped in a taxicab, and the driver had enough English. He took me on a short ride. We landed at a synagogue. And finally, when I got inside, and I heard the familiar music that's sung at Yom Kippur, my heart just broke open, and I had a feeling of coming home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAPLAN-MAYER: I think we live in a culture that encourages our rational mind rather than our intuition, and this was a moment that I listened to it. And the experience of going to synagogue was so nurturing and important to me that it reinforced this path that I've been on since then to keep following that intuitive voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: That is Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer. Her essay is titled "My Yom Kippur Experience In Germany Broke My Heart Open." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse