09 October 2008

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Today, I celebrated my first Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. It was a wonderful experience. I'm not one much for Yom Kippur (which is the holiest day of the Jewish year) generally. The idea of a day in which the judgment of all creatures is sealed works for me - I think it's powerful and really internalize the main message of this sacred period between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on which all creatures are judged and counted and Yom Kippur, 10 days later on which this judgement is sealed: namely that Teshuvah, Tefilah, U'Tzedaka Mavirin et Roah Ha'Gezarah - Repentance, Prayer/Introspection, and Acts of Loving Kindness/Charity remove evil from the decree. The ritual fasting (no food, no water for 25 hours or so) and all-day prayer marathon make sense to me. They just often don't reverberate.

I don't really enjoy long prayer services - I get bored, tired, detached. And fasting is never terribly fun. Mostly, I'm just sort of preoccupied with life - I've got lots to do, pulling myself entirely out of that is pretty much beyond where I am emotionally, and the exhaustion my body feels the day after a fast is never conducive to catching up. From what I understand though, that's pretty much the point of the whole thing, to take you entirely out of normalacy and make you focus on the fundamentals of existence. My problem is that most of the time that's basically a chore for me.

So spending Yom Kippur in Jerusalem was particularly nice. The entire city shuts down. Nothing is open. No cars drive down the street. There are people walking everywhere instead. Secular Israelis bike everywhere (apparently it's the day with the highest bicycle accident rate). Everything slows - I really liked it. In the evening we went to the shul where we had bought tickets (managed to get there for a couple of minutes over the two days of Rosh Hashanah, so it was good to be there for a full service). The davening (prayer) wasn't as stirring as Rosh Hashanah's had been, but it was still quite nice. There was a speech in between afternoon and evening prayers. I was pleased to follow most of it, even though it was all in Hebrew, then I dozed. During the evening prayer I prayed during the important parts, read Heschel's God In Search of Man (not sure how I feel about it yet - the writing is really stilted, and some of the ideas seem a bit presumptious/avoid key issues, but I think there's some stuff in there that I will find worthwhile), and joined back in whenever the singing grabbed me. As I walked home, I felt happy.

Today I slept until 9AM, slumbered (and talked with Linda) not wanting to go anywhere until noon, then fell back asleep until 3:30PM. I woke Linda and we dressed and decided to head to the Kotel (the Western Wall). We almost decided to go back to the shul for which we had tickets, but going to the holiest spot for Jews on the holiest day, at the holiest hour was too much of an opportunity to pass up - who knows when or if we will be back on this day whose prayer ends l'Shana Ha'baah B'Yerushalayim - Next year in Jerusalem?

We walked on what looked to be the shortest route on the map, but in fact took us deep into a valley from which we had to trek up a steep staircase to the Zion Gate to enter the old city. Linda was even weaker than I and we stopped to rest for 15 minutes. All-in-all the walk took us almost an hour.

As we approached the wall, travelers from all directions slowly came together like beads of water turning to streams, joining into a river that flowed to the Wall. No baggage x-ray today, only visual checks, and we were through into the plaza. Linda and I went to the separate sections for men and women, joining the Chovevai minyan. 10 men make up a traditional minyan (more modern strains of Judaism will use 10 adults or 10 men and 10 women) and at the Wall there were dozens of groups, each praying in it's own way - Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Chassidim, Misnagdim, Zionists, Orthodox Centrists, Jews from every part of the world and of every race. A uniformed border policeman with a rifle davened next to a young man in an orange sweatshirt reading "L$D". Brestlover chassdim with long payes davened with a pierced Israeli in shorts. Everywhere the sounds of prayer were heard in different accents, but the same words. The plaza itself was filled with Jews, praying and beyond them further away from the wall, simply watching those who prayed - perhaps to be part of it in a different way, perhaps out of curiousity, perhaps just waiting to hear the Shofar (Ram's horn) blown at the end of the day to signal the closing of the gates of repentance and end of the fast. I prayed, walked to the wall, meditated, walked back and forth to soak in the experience, accidentally walked right in front of a group as they began the prayer of the priests, and ran behind them to be included. My friend Yair, at whose apartment we are staying was there. I found him and we spoke. The prayers came to their conclusion as the moon rose over the Kotel. One after another the groups of prayers began to recite the Shema prayer and then sound the Shofar. One group blew and then another and then another - it was a beautiful, cachaphonious chaos. Yair and I left to beat the crowd. We grabbed a drink at the fountain and shared some of my chocolate. Linda met us at the water fountain bearing rugelach that she had grabbed from the stand set up by Lubavitch (and apparently founded by the State) and we headed home to get some more substantial food. It was the most meaningful Yom Kippur that I've had in awhile.

No comments:

Post a Comment