Yom Kippur, Israeli-Style

September 19, 2010

In the States, Yom Kippur always emitted feelings of seclusion; a few of us were excused from school for the day, only to be tortured by the smells of nearby cafes and restaurants that floated through the synagogue doors. But in Israel, Yom Kippur takes on an entirely new meaning.

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Sometime during the midday heat on Friday, Israel literally shut down.  Tel Aviv, with its orchestra of car horns and bus exhaust and squeaking brakes, suddenly fell into silence.  In preparation for the chag, or holiday, all businesses and roads were closed and would remain so until Saturday evening.

After dinner on Friday, we walked outside to explore the streets and neighborhoods surrounding our apartment.  Couples walked by pushing babies in strollers, dogs trotted along (unleashed as always) beside their owners, and children passed calmly beside us on their bikes and skateboards.  The concrete reflected greens and reds as the traffic lights changed back and forth, regardless of the quiet streets.

Saturday was no different; with no TV (channels are temporarily disabled), the day became a mixture of board games and walking.  The beaches and streets were dotted with people.  As the sun began to set, symbolizing the end of both Shabbat and Yom Kippur, we walked towards Hayarkon (the main street running parallel to the water) to watch the sunset.  Bikers pulled over to lean against the railing and groups of people sat in the grassy medians and on the sidewalks to watch the pinkish orange sun set behind the ocean.

On the walk home, some of the store coverings had been lifted, padlocks were being removed, and “Money for Nothing” was already playing from the outside speakers of the sushi restaurant below our building.

The holiday, for me, wasn’t about religion at all.  In fact, on an hour long visit to the nearby synagogue, I felt disconnected from Yom Kippur and the feeling that had begun to build.

Tel Aviv is in all senses of the word a secular place; the majority of its inhabitants do not partake in the fasting and services.  But there is something to be said about 36 hours of quiet and that in itself was more meaningful to me than any Yom Kippur of the past.

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