My first Yom Kippur spent in Israel was definitely one to remember. After looking out the window, watching bus after bus of Chasidim traveling to the Holy City of Jerusalem for the chag, our group finally arrived in Jerusalem: the holiest of places for the holiest of holidays. My friends and I settled into our accommodations for the night, cooked, and ate a huge amount of food to stock up for the next 24 hours of fasting. Feeling temporarily energized, we walked down Emek Refaim St. to people-watch.
People-watching on Yom Kippur in Israel is an experience like no other. Traffic completely stops so Israelis of all ages roam into the middle of even the busiest of streets. This day has been unofficially called the “Festival of Bicycles,” because all the kids take this day to race each other on their bikes in the streets and even on the highways. We witnessed hundreds of kids on bikes, and just as many minor collisions as it was clear some young bikers were actually learning for the first time.
After a good night of sleep, we woke up and went to a Reform temple in Jerusalem. This was meaningful in that for the first time, as a non-Hebrew speaker, I felt I could communicate in the same way as the Israelis. The prayers and tunes were the same ones recited at home.
After synagogue, we walked an hour to the Old City to eventually hear the blowing of the shofar to conclude the fast. With pain in our stomachs, my friends and I took naps on the roof of a youth hostel where some of our friends were staying. Why is this important? Because from the roof, we were privileged to witness an amazingly beautiful view overlooking the entire Old City.
We awoke rested and headed to the Kotel early enough to witness thousands of people form a sea of white in front of the wall. At 6:18, the long awaited sound of the shofar was heard and after much pushing and shoving, I broke the fast with chocolate croissants and orange juice, followed by bagels and lox, more pastries, and of course…tasty shwarma.
Yom Kippur in Jerusalem: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.