The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Monday, October 02, 2006

The man says, "How can you tell?" The woman says, "You told me yesterday."

What would it be like if the entire city went to shul with you, and then had a big kiddush?
No, seriously. Imagine for a moment if instead of a handful people trickling out of your building in the afternoon of Kol Nidrey, there were dozens. On the side street, your crowd flowed into a group of hundreds, and on the main boulevard, the crowd was larger than you could possibly count. Many were wearing white from head to toe – or suits if they were Americans. Kitels, Talitot, prayerbooks, strollers, all flowing to one place of prayer or another.

I can tell you are probably not impressed, especially if you are from a section of NYC, Baltimore, or Cleveland where plenty of Jews walk in large groups to shul on Yom Kippur. “Well of course there are lots of people going to synagogue- you are living in Jerusalem, for God’s sake! Tell us something we wouldn’t have guessed, Captain Obvious.”

Okay; The weather was great for first day of October?

“We can check the weather in Israel you know. Try again.”

Uh. Right. Everything is closed down- TV networks go off the air.
Even the little shops that are always open are closed.

“So what. It is a national holiday. We have national holidays outside of Israel as well. They even have them in Canada."

How about this: in Jerusalem, Yom Kippur is a happy festival day, just like in the Talmud.

“Okay, now you are just making stuff up to impress us.”

What do you mean- that the Talmud says Yom Kippur was a happy day, or that it’s a happy day again?

“Er….. both?”

Okay- we find the following in Mishna, Taanit 4:8 (and Gemara on Taanit 30b):
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, Israel had no days as joyous as The Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur; for on those days, the maidens of Jerusalem would go out dressed in borrowed white clothing - borrowed, in order not to embarrass those who had none…. The maidens of Jerusalem would go out and dance [in a circle] in the vineyards. And what would they say? "Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not consider beauty; rather consider family, 'For charm is false, and beauty is vanity. A woman who reveres God, she is the one to be praised..' (Proverbs 31:30) ".
So there you go on the Talmud side. And what makes it happy here in modern J'lem?

Modern Jerusalem has an endless amount of hidden synagogues. While there are large congregations made of spotless white plaster and Jerusalem stone, there are also ground floor apartments made into hand built Mizrachi chapels, and school rooms and auditoriums rented out for Saturday mornings. Each one of these fills up on Yom Kippur, and after Kol Nidrey, they all empty out onto the street.

I could tell you that nobody drives on Yom Kippur in Israel. Or I could tell you that Jerusalem law only allows emergency vehicles on the roads. But the best way to explain it is this: the street signals aren’t working. Let me be specific: EVERY STREET SIGNAL IS OFF IN JERUSALEM. Not some, not just blinking red lights- there are no stop lights. No walk signals. They turn them off. And the street- the street becomes the domain of white clad yerushalmim, talking for hours on end. Chairs appear, and soon a street is blocked by circle of neighbors catching up on a summer’s worth of news. Porches are full of sheytel (wig) clad women of different generations sharing babysitting duties for a newborn.

It was, in effect, like the largest Kiddush you have ever seen; its just that instead of not being sure where the food tables are, nobody was looking for them. Thousands of Jews were talking, sharing, walking and wandering, blocking intersections that normally are more dangerous than 5 day old cholent from the local Chabad house. This goes on for as far as you can see- and although the business districts of the city were apparently silent, residential streets are filled with conversation and rambling groups of jews- secular, religious, religious for the day, going to no place in particular.

That is not to say the streets are completely safe. There are little kids on bicycles and scooters also enjoying the car-free roads. While they all come from different backgrounds, they all ride their bikes like Israeli adults drive- that is to say, like homicidal maniacs. But between their small size and the way they shout to teach other, they don’t rev up enough speed to really do more than bruise. A nickname of Yom Kippur is “Chag ha’ofanayim”- the bicycle festival. Since it is a day off, and there is no TV, secular families trek all over the city on bikes exploring, and the religious kids? They just bike around to annoy the rest of us. (I received no reports of bikes, scooters, or fun of any sort in the ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem- but that does not mean that some fun did not happen when nobody was looking).

Between the streets all becoming pedestrian malls, the friends catching up with each other, the quiet that settles over the city and the welcome break from work taken by everyone, you can feel there is a quality to the day that can only be described as happy. When you see this in modern Jerusalem, history comes alive. And that is Yom Kippur in Jerusalem, where suddenly you can understand what Rabban Shimon ben Gamilel was talking about nearly 2000 years ago.

May we all have been inscribed for a sweet and joyous new year.


Anonymous Danya said...

Hey, N. and M--

Just waving hello from hol (ha-moed, natch); hope you had a dandy rest-of-Shabbos.....


11:29 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home