In the states, Yom Kippur is a whisper. We fast, attend services, and reflect on the past year’s transgressions and our intentions for the future. But the world keeps going on around us, so it is easy to get distracted by our daily lives. The significance of the day is a murmur caught up in the chatter of our surroundings.
In Israel, Yom Kippur is a deep, whooshing breath that you hold in your chest for a whole day. Everything around stands still for the holiest day of the year– there are no cars on the road, no people in the streets, and all business doors are closed. The silence forces you to observe deliberately, and reflection becomes a necessity rather than an afterthought.
When was the last time your entire world stood still?
For us, Yom Kippur began with Arab music. We heard it Tuesday morning blaring from a loudspeaker at a mosque nearby. The few tinkling melodies soon became a full sized dance tune. Just as my roommates and I began to exchanged puzzled glances, we heard a voice over the loudspeaker announcing the imminence of yom kippur and its importance to the community’s Jewish neighbors. And so, our day of reflection came with an unexpected and remarkable act of friendship.
And then we approached our first challenge of the Chagim (holidays): navigating an Israeli grocery store in the throes of pre-fast meal preparation. In addition to the bustle of the holiday crowd, we found ourselves puzzling over foreign foods and food labels in Hebrew (is this dairy-free (parve))? Why are these cucumbers so small? Where is the peanut butter????). But we made it through the trip, and prepared a delicious dinner to kick off our fast.
After dinner, we headed to Kol Nidre services, dressed in our white yom kippur best. While most synagogues in Lod are Sephardic, we found an Ashkenic synagogue right behind our home and joined the throngs of neighbors filing into shul. We were welcomed, given prayerbooks and a place to sit– I was stunned at how easily I felt at home.
That is, until the service started. The vast majority of synagogues in Israel are Orthodox, which means that the entire service is sung, and most of it is observed standing up. The men and women are separated by a mechitzah, or curtain, and the women are dressed modestly, with headscarves and their shoulders covered. I lost my place in the prayerbook almost immediately, but was content to listen to the chanting and join in when I recognized the words. It was interesting- even though I couldn’t dream of following the service, the few tunes I could pick up were made so much more beautiful when they came out of nowhere, woven somewhere within the threads of the foreign melodies that filled the room.
This morning, a few roommates and I stayed back from daytime services, instead choosing to do yoga and meditate on our balcony. After a nice long (hungry) nap, it was time to break the fast. We scarfed down leftovers and are now sitting at our dining room table, listening to our roommate Jodi practice her ukelele for our weekend camping trip to Mount Gilboa. Needless to say, I am STOKED for this adventure!
Today’s participant blog post comes from Becca Garfinkel, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. The group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Becca’s personal travel blog, which can be found here.