Friday, October 2, 2009
this sunday evening through monday we had our first yom kippur in the countryside. and to be honest it was not as special as it is in tel aviv. (yeah, those photos are not our village, but from last year's yom kippur in tel aviv).
if you are not familiar with yom kippur you might wonder how this specific holiday is different from other days, but trust me, it's different. not just because it is the most important jewish holiday, the one holiday that is observed by so many secular jews, who otherwise never really pay much attention to religious laws. it is also special because of the sanctity it holds in the israeli community, even among those who do not keep the fast. which is basically what yom kippur is all about: a day of atonement through 25 hours of fast, from sunset to sunset, no food, no water, no nothing.
rosh hashana, the jewish new year, falls 10 days prior to yom kippur. according to jewish religious tradition, god decides your fate for the coming year on new year's day based on your actions in the year that just passed. but the "deal" is not signed before yom kippur sets in, so you have 10 days to get a better score, so to speak. did you do wrong towards god? if yes, then you better be remorseful. and mean it, cause he'll know if you're cheating. did you wrong anyone? family, friends, strangers? now is the time to ask for forgiveness. which means there's a lot of making up, explaining and forgiving going on in these 10 days. also by secular jews. it's just the time, it's in the air.
as yom kippur sets in, it's done. your fate for the coming year has been signed. alas, the way to wish people a "happy" yom kippur is to say chatima tova, meaning something like 'good signature', as in 'hopefully you managed to get yourself a good deal for the coming year'.
funny enough the deal is settled before yom kippur. maybe because this is the day where you really should mean it, think about how to become a better person and live a better life. so a religious person will spend the day fasting, praying and exactly that.
if you're not religious, this is a day to see your city and your community from another angle. the experience in tel aviv is amazing. seriously no one is driving. nothing is open, even the television channels are black. kids on their first bike rides, teenagers on skateboards, young couples walking hands in hand and groups of friends and families take over the streets. the city becomes full with laughter, voices, talking. no cars, no music, no television, no radio to blur the sound of real people.
these photos are from yom kippur last year while we still lived in the center of the center of tel aviv. we're walking on ben yehuda street, one of the most packed streets in tel aviv. we lived not far and usually the kids were held in hands and often told to 'get back', 'come here', 'stop' or 'watch out'. but not this day. this day the street was their. and as you see it got to them, the feeling. in fact they had to lie down and feel it. they were taken with a mobile and the focus was on the kids, not so much the yom kippur experience itself. if you want to get more of a feel, check out this photo or this one. many people make this a day of adventure, making bike trips on the high ways, between cities. imagine that: turning into the highway on your bike. no cars, just other bikers and quiet. stunning!
and for those secular jews who actually don't do much thinking, but anyway try to keep the fast, because that might be the one thing that they feel define them as jews, as cultural jews, they either sleep as much as possible to make it pass easier. or they read. or watch movies. some cut down the fast to only the day, some decide that they can drink water. they find a way for it to make sense for them.
if you're curious by now: nope, i don't. at first i thought i should try, living here in this culture, but things like pregnancy and breastfeeding always seemed to come in the way. and, to be honest, i have never been much of a religious person, so it kind of feels weird to me with all this "form" around the spiritual content. or maybe i'm just not that into it, you know, the not eating and drinking for 25 hours.
that said, i absolutely respect the day, and even love the feel and atmosphere. it rubs off. i would never eat or drink in public. or drive, obviously. and i share that with all the others that are not observing. it really is a holy day. for all jews, but here in israel you feel it, you see it as your ordinary world is transformed into something so different, so unique and beautiful, simply because it is quiet and calm.