Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur & the Tour de Holon

Yom Kippur is a very special experience in Israel, not least because of the ban on motor vehicles from sundown on erev Yom Kippur until the final shofar blast concluding the holiday some 25 hours later. It's amazing to see the streets emptied of cars by about 4pm on erev Yom Kippur, with a few strays scurrying to their final parking places until about five o'clock. From sundown on, it's actually illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any roads unless you're an ambulance, police car, or of course, army.
Spending the holiday in Holon, the home town of my wife and her siblings (they continue to reside here) was quite an experience. Secular Israelis start flooding the streets soon after the erev Yom Kippur meal. Mine was a delightful Yemenite repast provided by my brother-in-law's parents, long time residents of Holon (History is never far away in Israel; My brother-in-law Barak's father was a member of the Irgun, "a clandestine Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948, as a militant offshoot of the earlier and larger Haganah (Hebrew: "The Defense", ההגנה) Jewish paramilitary organization. In Israel, Irgun is commonly referred to as Etzel (אצ"ל), an acronym of the Hebrew initials"). As I made my way to one of the local synagogues, I was met by young bicycle brigades amidst fellow synagogue travelers.

I spent Kol Nidre services in two Sephardic synagogues, one Egyptian; the other Yemenite. Both were small, intimate and overflowing. Unlike our larger American counterparts, these places of worship are minimalist in design and have few of the ornaments that mark North American temples. My wife likens the Israeli synagogue experience to bees going to their hives to do their business. There is no fanfare, frills or grandiose ornaments. I was very welcomed and enjoyed seeing services conducted in a very different fashion.
By the time I left services, the streets were packed with enthusiastic young bicyclists and adults enjoying the car-free streets. Secular and observant alike were out in droves. At least in Holon, and on this particular holiday, there was a tolerant meshing of the observant and the secular.

Saturday was more of the same. Kids everywhere on their bikes; adults flanking the roads and boulevards. Synagogue goers making our way to services, carefully weaving through the heavy traffic of youngsters on bikes. I overheard one group of boys (probably between 10-12 years old) making plans to head down to the beach at Bat Yam, an adjoining city by the beach several kilometers away. It's not unusual for children to be on their own in the streets on Yom Kippur. My 6 year old niece, Bar, took her cousin (my 7 year old son Asaph) downstairs on her own to start the days cycling fest ivies. Parents are only worried about bicycle accidents, of which there is no shortage. Some of the kids wear helmets; many do not. The regulations police (parents) that are so prevalent in America are non-existent here. There is much less protecting one from oneself in a society that has far greater daily worries.

I spent Saturday services at an Ashkenazi shul. The machers (those in the know) there made me feel at home. They brought me the Yom Kippur prayer book and showed me where we were in the service. One man directed me to a place where there was an empty seat. The gentleman next to me regularly helped me find my place as the particular siddur (prayer book) I was given was very old and the service jumped around the pages. During Neila ("locking"), the closing prayers, I was invited up to the ark to kiss the torahs before the final closing of the ark and symbolically, the gates of heaven.
My sons found their way to the synagogue I was at and got to experience the blowing of the Shofar, concluding the holiday. They were exhausted from a long day of bicycling, but happy to find me and hear the shofar. We went back to my sister-in-law's apartment, showered and made our way to my other brother-in-law, Ofer's apartment, not far away, to break the fast in a classic Israeli-style feast! After dinner, I had the opportunity to interview my nephew Amir, a 21 year old lieutenant in the IDF and his best friend, Aviad ben Yehuda, also 21 and a second lieutentant. He is the great-grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the individual principally responsible for the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language. (as I mentioned earlier, we are never far away from living history here in this amazing country!). More on that interview in a future posting. It was a Yom Kippur I will long remember!
david brumer


Lao Qiao said...

Speaking of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, he said he had been inspired to work to revive Hebrew after reading George Eliot's novel DANIEL DERONDA, which, by the way, has a character who is a musician and is named Mr. Klesmer.

Anonymous said...

hi david,i have been Reading your article about yom kippur, i enjoyed very match it is interesting to hear you seen that day from your eyes, its a relay spacial day that almost everyone Honor

Unknown said...

Hi David,
I was interested in your visit to Holon and hearing that your brother-in-law Barak's father was a member of the Irgun.
Does he have any personal recollections of the time in February 1946 when Basuto troops at the military camp went berserk after their camp was raided by one of the Jewish militant groups, some Basuto soldiers killed and arms looted.
Three residents in Holon were killed while the troops rampaged.