In Israel, we moved the clocks back one hour to daylight savings time Sunday the 23rd of September (early in the morning). The move to DST was weeks ahead of many other countries around the world. But with Yom Kippur approaching, the Israeli government was ensuring that the Yom Kippur fast would end at about 6:00 p.m. instead of 7:00 p.m. Does the extra hour make that big of a difference? Many believe that it is easier to start the fast earlier and finish it earlier. It is still the same 26 hours in total, but it does seem easier to conclude the fast earlier in the day.
In any event, this is an illustration of the central role tht religion plays in Israel and, in particular, Yom Kippur. Many secular Israelis were vocally opposed to this early clock change. It meant that it would become dark in Israel by 6 p.m. and earlier in September and October. These are months in which the temperature can still top 30 degrees Celsius and the waters of the Mediterranean Sea are still quite inviting. DST cuts out an hour of after-school or after-work enjoyment of some great outdoor activity weather. The clock change is premature. Debates have been held in the Knesset about this and will undoubtedly continue. My thought is that as a compromise, we should move the clocks back after Simchat Torah for about a month. In other words, have DST temporarily for about 2 weeks for the Jewish holydays and then move them back until early November - and change with the rest of the world at that time.
But whether Israel is on DST or regular time, Yom Kippur in Israel is still an amazing holiday. The entire country really comes to a standstill for a 26 hour period. Almost nothing is open anywhere. Stores, restaurants, buses - everything is closed. There are practically no cars on the road - as shown in this picture that I found on another site - other than emergency vehicles.
For our part, we spent Erev Yom Kippur, Tuesday night, at our shul in Kfar Saba, Hod v'Hadar. We drove to the Synagogue before Yom Kippur began and left our car in a parking spot on the street near the shul for the day. Starting the fast at 5 p.m. (because of the clock change) means eating as early as 3 p.m. or so to make sure that you are on time for synagogue services. We walked back from Kfar Saba to Ra'anana - about an hour long walk. On the way, we crossed one of Israel's major highways. There was not a car on the road other than two or three ambulances and a police vehicle. With so many people using their bicycles, there are usually quite a number of bicycle accidents, some of them serious, so the ambulances still have to be ready.
In Ra'anana, there were thousands of people in the streets, walking up and down the centre of the city and enjoying the atmosphere. Very little noise other then the sounds of peoples voices. No cars. No commercial activity. But lots of people, especially kids riding around on bikes.
We spent Yom Kippur day in Ra'anana at the house of one of the families from our shul. For many years now they have been holding Yom Kippur services in their house for 60-80 people. The service was very participatory, egalitarian and somewhat abbreviated. Our family members participated by reading from the Torah in the morning. Many of the people attending had some kind of role. It was a terrific, spiritually meaningful way to spend Yom Kippur. We all broke the fast together at about 6:20 p.m. with food that participants had prepared and delivered to the house the day before.
For those of us who have lived our lives in North America or other places outside of Israel, we get accustomed to the idea that everything is still going on all around us while we are observing Yom Kippur. We see the usual traffic and commercial activity and might even be worried about our businesses that day. It is really special to see the way Yom Kippur is observed in Israel. To see a day on which everything comes to a stop - especially in today's fast paced world, where that seems increasingly unfathomable - is really quite something.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Sunday, October 9, 2011
This is the Kotel (the "Western Wall" or the "Wailing Wall") in Jerusalem, at 2:00 a.m. on Friday October 7, 2011. From the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah until the day before Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Jews make their way to the Kotel for Selichot prayers. The prayers are penitential prayers which are said as part or religious preparations leading up to Yom Kippur, usually between 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m.
People come to Jerusalem from all over Israel to recite the Selichot prayers. Traffic to Jerusalem is madness. Many of the roads are closed to passenger vehicles. We tried our luck driving anyways and wound up spending quite a bit of time in the car. Eventually we parked a couple of kilometers away from the Old City and made our way to the Kotel by foot, moving along with thousands of other pedestrians.
We were not there for one of the main, official Selichot services. Instead, we saw groups of 10 or 15 people doing individual Selichot prayers. The area near the Kotel was so densely packed, it was next to impossible to move to the front and actually get near the wall. It was quite fascinating to see so many people there in the middle of the night. Though we left at 3:00 a.m. from the Kotel area, it might as well have been the middle of the day. The whole area was well lit and thousands of people were just arriving as others left. Luckily for us there was a 24 hour Aroma Coffee bar nearby, which must have been enjoying one of its busiest days of the year. Nothing like a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant to go with those penitential prayers...
We spent Yom Kippur this year in Ra'anana. From about 2:00 p.m., on Erev Yom Kippur (the day before) everything in Israel completely shuts down. The buses and trains stop running. The airport closes. Stores and restaurants close. Even the border crossings all close. By 5:00 p.m., when Yom Kippur starts and the fast begins, everyone stops driving. There is not a car on the road, other than emergency vehicles. It is actually amazing to see. There is no law that prohibits cars from driving and a significant percentage of the population does not observe the holiday in any religious way. Many are not Jewish. But nevertheless, there are simply no cars on the road.
Instead, Yom Kippur has become a national day of bicycling and walking. The day before Yom Kippur in Israel is the single biggest day of the year for bicycle sales. Secular kids and adults throughout the country go on lengthy cycling trips, riding in the middle of the main highways, with not a car in sight. Others walk up and down the main city streets, in the middle of the road.
We drove our car to our synagogue before Yom Kippur and parked it there before Yom Kippur started. After services, we walked backed to Ra'anana from K'far Saba (a walk of about an hour). There were thousands of people in the streets, walking along, chatting with each other and people they might bump into. The main street in Ra'anana (Ahuza Street) was filled with wall to wall people, strolling along and enjoying the chance to take over the main streets with no cars anywhere. For the kids, the highlight was sitting down on the main highway (Highway 4) as we crossed it from K'far Saba to Ra'anana. An erie sight to see one of Israel's busiest highways with no vehicles whatsoever.
Israel moved its clocks back one hour just before Yom Kippur to ensure that the fast would end earlier. So the scheduled time for the fast to end was 5:54 p.m. on
We walked to Yom Kippur services in Ra'anana in the morning. Again, it was quite the sight to see children bicycling, skate boarding and roller blading everywhere, on main streets and side streets, right in the middle of the road, as others walked to synagogues throughout the city, often dressed head to toe in white clothes.
According to a recent survey conducted, 85% of Israelis claimed that they fast during Yom Kippur, which is a remarkably high percentage considering the number of secular people in the country. I don't know what percentage would have also said that they were happy to take their kids out for a bike ride, while fasting, but that number must have also been quite high.
Strangely enough, a day that is seen as the most solemn and holy day on the Jewish calendar has probably become the most exciting day of the year for many Israeli youth. Nevertheless, many of these non-observant Jews head over to the nearest synagogue, with their children, to hear the Shofar being blown just after sunset, marking the end of another year in the Jewish calendar and the fresh beginning of a new one.
Shana Tova to all from Ra'anana.