Saturday, October 8, 2011

10/7/11-10/8/11: The Silence Of A Country Shut Down

The Carless Streets Of Tel Aviv On Yom Kippur

Yesterday's sundown brought with it the start of the holiest 25 hours in Judaism; the holiday of Yom Kippur. With the appearance of the first 3 stars in the sky came the eve of our day of atonement. On this day it is customary to fast (no food, no liquid), to spend hours upon hours deep in prayer seeking forgiveness from both the Divine and our fellow human beings, to self reflect on the past year, and to express our wishes and desires for the year upcoming. This day reins holiest of them all for us Jews, no matter where in the world we are, but if you are lucky enough to be in the Holy Land on this ever so sacred day of atonement, you experience something that you will never be able to feel anywhere else in the entire world.

Firstly, it is important to understand just how important religion is in the state of Israel. For example, on the Sabbath public transportation stops, many shops, restaurants, and business close early, and there is a calm that overtakes the country. Now, there are still plenty of things open on the Sabbath, but for the most part, you can feel the difference between the weekdays and the period of Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night). Religion also has the power to change time here in Israel. Unlike the rest of the world, our daylight savings time comes 3 weeks early to accommodate Yom Kippur, which gives us less sunlight during our 25 hour fast. And to lastly illustrate just how overwhelmingly important religion is here, on this most sacred day of Yom Kippur, the entire country of Israel shuts down. Unlike Shabbat, when there is still some life in more secular areas of Israel (Tel Aviv and part of Jerusalem included), the entire country lay still for the 25 hours of Yom Kippur. Some might say this is inconvenient, or not agree with the fact that a state is so steeped in religion, but I think the Jewish identity of Israel is what makes this place so much more special than any other place in the world.

Like I previous stated, daylight savings time comes early to Israel, so our fast began at 4:50pm on Friday, October 8th (which also happened to be Shabbat. Double Whamy!!). I tried my hardest to eat a substantial amount of food throughout the day, and crammed in a rather large meal around 4pm in the hopes that it would carry me through the 25 hour fast. Once I had eaten my fill, and then some, I headed off to Chabad to partake in the Erev (evening) services, and hear the chanting of the Kol Nidre. This is the point where we officially begin to atone for our sins and ask for forgiveness. The prayers are so hauntingly beautiful on this night, and they hit you at your core with a wave of somberness that lasts the entirety of the holiday.

It wasn't until services let out that I really understood how special it is to be in Israel on this day. When I said the country shuts down, my words didn't do the reality of the situation justice. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is open, there is no air traffic allowed over Israel for 29 hours (no planes come in, no planes go out), there is not a single car on the road, most lights are turned off, no TV stations air footage, and there is an eery stillness and silence that befalls the country. However, Israel is not devoid of life on this day. In fact, quite to the contrary, there are hundreds of people that fill the streets in lieu of cars. Synagogue goers are rushing to and from Shul, children are riding bikes and skateboards in the middle of the roads, families are taking walks with their little ones in strollers, and the streets are filled to the brim with people. Everywhere you go people are wishing you a Chag Sameach (happy holiday), Tzom Kal (easy fast), and Shana Tova (good year), and though the country lays silent, the citizens breathe a new kind of life into the Israeli air; one filled with prayer and togetherness.

As I was walking home I couldn't help but feel so lucky to be here in Israel. I am alone and without my family here, but I have never felt more spiritually complete. This, if you will, strengthening and reaffirmation of spirit and faith is something that is very important to me at this transitional time in my life, when I am going from child to adult, and trying to pave my way in this world. Though I am alone, I have never really felt lonely, and that is the most precious thing of all.

When I arrived home I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. It wasn't very late, but when you can't eat or watch TV (all TV stations were shut down; satellite and cable), that really only leaves reading and sleeping. I reflected a little more on the day and finally fell asleep. I woke up this morning, surprisingly and thankfully, not very hungry at all. Unfortunately, that feeling was a bit too good to be true. Come 11am I was starving, but I was determined to see my fast through to the very end. Since I had no energy whatsoever, I spend most of the day reading, sleeping, reflecting, sleeping some more, and doing whatever I could to pass the time quickly. Finally by 3pm I started to get ready to head back to Chabad for Neilah and the end of Yom Kippur services.

Again, as I was walking to Shul, I marveled at the overwhelming silence of a country shut down, and loved watching various generations walking around on the carless streets. I was walking on the street behind a group of older women on their way to temple and I couldn't help but think of my Bubby and her group of friends, and wonder if they would be doing the same thing were they in Israel. I started to miss my family a lot at this point, but was strengthened knowing that I was about to end the holiday having successfully completed a very meaningful fast. I arrived at Chabad right in time for Neila, davened (prayed) one last time to atone for my sins of the past year, and prayed one last time to be sealed in the book of life for the year to come. A very quick Jewish lesson for those readers who are not of the faith. During Rosh Hashana (our new year and the start to our high holidays) it is believed that God begins to decide who is written in the book of life for the upcoming year, and who is not. During the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, our fate is said to be decided, but not sealed. There is still a chance for fates to change. Yom Kippur is when our fate is sealed, and at the sound of the shofar, signifying the close of Yom Kippur, so it signifies the closing of the book and the sealing of our fate for the year to come.

By this time I had atoned to the best of my ability, withheld food for almost 26 hours, and was at the point where I was ready to sprint home to break the fast. Fearing a fainting spell, I decided that running was not the best idea, but I made it home without a problem, went right into my fridge, pulled out my favorite chocolate bar, and thus my fast was broken! It wasn't glamorous, but it was one of the most satisfying bites of food I have ever taken. After my humble break fast, I made my dinner, got some work done, watched a move, and packed for my return trip to Jerusalem tomorrow morning. It was a perfect holiday, and I am so glad to have been able to spend it at home in Tel Aviv.

I will end with the hope that Yom Kippur brought closure and meaning to everyone who observes this most sacred of days. To my family, friends, and anyone I may have wronged or hurt, I humbly ask for your forgiveness, and to my loved ones I pray for you to have a happy, healthy, and sweet year filled with love, success, and prosperity.

Gmar Chatima Tovah v' Shana Tova <3

My love always,
Jordana Simone 

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