“It’s really fun right?” Sebastian blurts animatedly as he whizzes by the living room sofa on what he calls his אפנוע (ofno’ah=motorcyle). I turn my head. What’s really fun? “Yom Kippur! Next Yom Kippur I want to ride on the streets again on my ofno’ah.
[And so, I am compelled now, as Channukah swiftly approaches, to (quickly) hark back to September 18 and write about Yom Kippur.]
Really fun! Not the first phrase that comes to mind when talking about the Jewish Day of Atonement. I would offer, based on my Jewish experience in the Diaspora all these years, adjectives like somber, solemn, reflective, pleasingly meditative even. But fun – no.
In spite of the absence of “fun” however, Yom Kippur has in truth always been one of my favorite holidays. I always liked the introspective thrust of the holiday. The quiet, the austerity, the rumination; it lent the day a special tenor, it awarded it import, it set it apart from the rest.
But this year, our first Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, I was hard pressed to find this meditative state.
Here the roads were bustling. Not with cars or busses evidently, but with pedestrians and kids on bicycles. Yom Kippur here is indeed a street party for kids!
I must admit there was something exhilarating, cathartic, certainly extraordinary, even holy, about ambling in the middle of the main roads with hoards of others on this one day of the year when all other traffic comes to an abrupt halt.
Here Yom Kippur is keenly felt – there are no cars on the streets, no school, everything is shut down – but not observed. There, it is just the opposite.
There, over recent years, I purposefully sent the kids to preschool so that I could spend a good chunk of the day in solitary repose (if you sleep most of the day the fast goes much easier), fasting, reflecting. Here, the kids of course don’t’ go to school. And telling people that you fast on Yom Kippur will yield a look that will make you question whether you are in fact from this planet. The supermarkets and grocery stores are jam-packed on the afternoon of the eve of Yom Kippur before shutting down for the one-day holiday, because people need to stock up.
There I would try to go to synagogue to hear the mournful and soulful Kol Nidrei chant. Here we of course don’t (yet?) have a synagogue. Reform synagogues in general, though a lovely one does exist in North Tel Aviv, are simply scarce in these parts. In Israel, politics seeps into everything. In the case of Judaism, it bleeds. Judaism (as in the religion) here is sadly relegated to the orthodox sector, which meets (understandably) with deep and bitter resignation by the secular population (Tel Aviv!) for the political coercion in which they are embroiled. There is a sense that their fruitful families are taking over the country (a very bad thing politically), and “just leave us Tel Aviv, for gods sake” – a small haven of secular liberalism.
No solitariness, no synagogue, no one with whom to break the fast. (Who here even fasts?)
I woke up to prepare breakfast for the kids. Walked through the middle of the roads in the moist and sticky heat of the day, Liliana prancing freely and Sebastian zipping on his ofno’ah. Went to a lively playground, and felt like I was about to collapse. When no one was looking I furtively stuck my hand in my bag, unwrapped the cereal bar that I had brought along for the kids, and snuck a bite.
This was the first time in 15 years, save when I was pregnant, that I broke the fast midday.