All of the holidays in Israel are somewhat of a surreal experience. This is especially the case for any of us who come from towns, cities, or places where we aren’t surrounded by Jews constantly. If you live in Crown Heights or Boro Park or Williamsburg or even the Pico/Robertson area in LA… you are surrounded by Jews. You don’t feel like a minority but in Vero Beach, Florida or Broomfield, Colorado… you would be hard pressed to find someone “like” you. And so has been my existence. Judaism was a family thing for me and less of a communal experience. Sure we had our shuls and that community but we didn’t leave near each other nor did we walk to shul so what we had rested in the walls of our synagogue.
Jerusalem, in fact Israel, could not be more different. Walking to or from our host families homes for meals on the chaggim (holidays) you see the streets filled with walkers. Sometimes a car will woosh past you but when it does you remark on it with surprise rather than it being the norm. But the best part? The best part of it all… saying Shana Tova or Shabbat Shalom or Chag Sameach to everyone who you pass. It is as if all of Jerusalem becomes one community on the holidays.
On Yom Kippur this is especially true. This holiday seems to be the one sobering Jewish fact in the land of Judaism. Secular Jews and less observant Jews will drive on Shabbis or Rosh Hashanah (despite the observant Jews’ interpretation of the prohibition to drive on holidays). However, on Yom Kippur, you will find the streets empty of all cars. Even in Tel Aviv which is known for being secular, it is gauche to drive on this sacred day.
The only cars you will see on the road on Yom Kippur are ambulances. The national television and radio also are not broadcast on this day. Our rabbi told us that the lines for Blockbuster are around the block for families who don’t celebrate Yom Kippur in preparation of this day!
Yom Kippur in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv is quite a sight to see. But I wasn’t there. Instead I chose to spend my Yom Kippur, one of our holiest days, in one of the four holiest cities to Judaism… Tzfat.
Tzfat or Safed or Tsfat or Sefat or Zefat (our multiple ways of trying to recreate a sound that we don’t have in English) remains the center of Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah. A hotly contested hill, Tzfat has been home to Jews since the Torah. It was allocated within the land for the tribe of Naftali. The Babyars wiped it out in the 1200’s, there was a HUGE influx of incredible rabbis during the Spanish Inquisition of around 1492 and there was a Hebrew printing press there by around 1577. I highly recommend visiting to anyone who is in Israel or coming. Today it is a beautiful mix of shuls, artists, and mysticism.
I traveled with four other women to stay at a lovely hostel called Ascent where we were put up for two nights and they had their own services. It was an incredible and spiritual experience. On Yom Kippur we fast and intensely pray to G!d for not just forgiveness for past deeds but our future. This year, Yom Kippur fell on a Shabbat which makes it an even greater day. We are expressly told not to fast on Shabbat. It is a joyous day not to be marred by fasting or sadness (though I believe there are some exceptions). On Shabbat Yom Kippur, we fast. Many people believe that Yom Kippur is a sad day but that is just the impressions from the trappings (fasting, wearing white, calling out confessions) when in fact it is a joyous day. We are celebrating G-d’s intense love for us and us for G-d. Adding the joy of shabbat with the joy of Yom Kippur makes this a special year. Additionally, here I am, standing on top of a mountain (Tzfat is the highest city in the country) shouting my praise and adoration for G-d. My body was physically depleted but my soul was soaring.
The morning after Yom Kippur, we rolled out of our hard, hostel beds and wow! The sun was shining so bright, it was as if we were all standing like Moses in front of G-d’s essence of Mount Sinai. I knew this new year was going to be an amazing one.
*Thanks to my Tzfat, Mayanot, and Snorkel & Study buddy Rucheli for that last pic. Check out her blog here – Rucheli’s Writings
Originally posted at Talia, She Wrote