It’s taken me a couple weeks to almost recover from the effects of the dust storm. My immune system is weak, so it doesn’t take much. After the most tremendous three hour lightning storm earlier this week – nonstop right over our house – very intense with a nice cleansing rain, the temperatures are down and the skies are beautifully clear. It was as if the heavens opened and cleaned all the shmutz out of the air, and off the cars, patios, plants – everything!
Max came home again from Mechinah for the Yom Kippur/Sukkot Holy Days, fighting off a sinus infection (dust!!), but it’s great to have him home again. After a high-protein, liquid-rich dinner, we prepared ourselves for the 25 hour dry fast (no food or liquid) with prayers of peace over Jerusalem, our land, and the world. This past week, things have more than flared up in Jerusalem, especially over the Temple Mount. Stashes of Palestinian pipe bombs, molotov cocktails, and other prize “weapons” had been discovered at the entrance to the Mount. Pilgrims and people praying have been assaulted by rock-hurlers from above at the Al-Aqsa Mosque onto the Western Wall Plaza. Throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank areas this week, there have been multiple cases of car accidents (and deaths) caused by angry rock-throwing Palestinians. We pray continually for peace.
John and I decided to drive the car down to our synagogue (about 11/2 miles from our house), and park it there, so we would not have to walk back up the mountain after fasting that long: and I thank John for his foresight. We have never before experienced the High Holidays in Israel. Our Rosh HaShonnah was lovely, we were invited to dinners, and the atmosphere was really quite celebratory. For Yom Kippur, there is a custom that has fairly recently started in the US, but is traditional here, that everyone dresses in all white. As the gates of heaven and G-d’s Divine Mercy are open at this time, we celebrate our forgiveness and our closeness to the angels and to heaven by wearing white. Our synagogue was packed out the door, literally, with chairs in the courtyards all occupied, as EVERYONE without exception comes to the “Kol Nidre” service. There are 41 synagogues in Karmi’el and every one of them were filled to capacity, standing room only. It’s just that important. Even the most secular come out. Although the liturgy is exactly the same throughout the world, much of the music here, was completely different. The whole atmosphere seemed strange to me. In America, I went to an Ashkenazi synagogue, influenced by Eastern Europeans. This had more of the Sephardi flavor, that of the Eastern, North African, and Spanish bent. It was like looking at a globe from the other side. In Israel the penitential Day of Atonement has a completely different flavor. It’s much more upbeat. And I just couldn’t figure it out – yet.
Big mistake of the evening: I asked a hip looking young man after services if it was OK if we drove home. Max really wasn’t feeling well. The gentleman looked at me as if I was from a different universe altogether, even after explaining to him we were new immigrants from California. You know, the flakey ones who drive everywhere. It just wasn’t registering. “You CAN”T drive! No cars. No driving. You just CAN’T!!” Well…. soon we understood. Yes we had heard that noone drives on Yom Kippur, but we were NOT in any way prepared for the night ahead and walk back home!!!!
Everyone was flooding out of the synagogues all dressed in white. Head to toe!!! Everything completely closed. Absolutely no cars. The streets were PACKED!!! Kids were hanging out, talking and singing on the grassy roundabouts. Kids were riding bikes in the street!! Hundreds and hundreds of them!!! It was like a heavenly festival with the town completely shut down, all streets cleared, and people just hanging out, strolling, chatting, and enjoying the evening. I’ve never seen anything like this!!! Every street was packed. No one was indoors. Even the dogs were escorting their owners – babies in strollers, kids on skateboards and bikes. Totally peaceful. To make things even stranger, I met a woman I knew from my hometown of Westlake Village, CA. She had made Aliyah and was living in Karmiel for six years. She explained it all to us.
In Israel, this is the one day where EVERYONE completely unplugs from everything. It is holy, and it is very special. No public transportation at all. Even Ben Gurion Airport is completely closed! The highways are at a complete standstill. The radio stations and television stations stop broadcasting. All the country is quiet and at peace, and the people are joyful and free. It is said to resemble the World to Come. Also, the focus is different. Instead of solemn, centering on the Judgement of G-d, we look at it from a different perspective. We know here that if we come to Him at least part way, He is quick to forgive. We fast – even the most secular seem to take this fast to heart – and are cleansed and written in His Book of Life. From Rosh Ha Shannah (instead of centering on judgement, the Kingship of G-d is also stressed. We celebrate Elohenu as our King, and we, His people) to the Day of Atonement, the songs are more upbeat – from that Sephardic influence, the tone more “we are all one step closer to the HaOlam HaBah” – eternal glory.
So Yom Kippur Eve was glorious. Meeting old fiends (small world!!), making new friends – some neighbors we had not yet formally met – and now have more dinner invites!!! Seeing all the kids; everyone dressed in white; the peacefulness of the night. After all the festivities (really wished I’d taken pictures, but left my camera at home), things gradually began to break up before midnight. John and I stood out on the balcony as we do every night, but this was different. There was absolutely no noise! No twinkling lights from cars on the mountains surrounding. No IDF jets or helicopters patrolling the skies. No music wafting through the air. Not even a dog barking. Complete peace.
The next day, we set off for services. All the adults were walking in their white outfits again, but now it was really different. Children under the age of 13 are neither obligated to fast nor attend synagogue. So it’s a complete Children’s Day!!! The streets are empty, and the kids take over!!! Bikes everywhere! Go carts! Skateboards! Even four and five year olds are out on their training bikes. Little tykes racing down the steep hills (Karmi’el is a city built on 9 hills, a mountain city) having the times of their lives!!! They own the cities and they know it!! This must certainly put a big smile on G-d’s face on this day, as we adults spend our time in prayer. And all the older children really watch out for their younger charges. I love it!!
The day was definitely a different experience. We loved it!!! There were times we missed our friends back in LA at our old synagogue; our friends at the Agoura Senior Center; and celebrating the Holy Days with Dennis Prager (really missed YK with Dennis!!!! His system made for a much easier fast! But we kept up his tradition of break-fast with a big bag of peanut M&Ms I had brought from America and had saved for this moment!!!!).
We catch our breaths for a day, and then tomorrow make our drive to Jerusalem for Sukkot. It’s sure to be another great week in the Holy Land.
By the way, thanks to HaShem for keeping the world relatively quiet as we celebrated this wonderful time….