Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yom Kippur, Tel Aviv style

Times of Israel   Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins this Friday evening. Many people know Jews don’t eat or drink for 25 hours (sundown to sundown) but few know what actually happens on Yom Kippur in modern, non-religious, Israel.

When I arrived, just over four years ago, Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv took me by complete surprise.

Practically all cars and motor transport will stop. Just not go anywhere. Almost no planes, trains or automobiles will move until Saturday night. [...]

From sundown to sundown the streets are full of people strolling or cycling; on suburban streets or along 10 lane highways, the only thing you have to watch out for are kids on speeding bicycles. Non observant people figure out how, for just one day a year, not to drive except for dire emergencies.

I will allow my 4 year old child to pedal furiously down a 6 lane divided highway in whichever direction he prefers. [...]

So why is being Jewish so different when you’re in Israel? There has never, in my recollection, been a Jew outside of Israel who’s publicly got upset by anyone eating, even in front of him, on Yom Kippur. 

Jews have never, and will never, ask you to stop driving for a day in your country. It just won’t happen. Even in our own country this isn’t a law, it’s just something the vast majority of Jews want to do because, over here, in Jewish Israel, it feels right.

That is the difference between living as a Jew outside Israel and as a Jew in Israel: here we can just BE Jewish and the calendar and the customs and the norms of behavior push us into being culturally Jewish even if we don’t want to study Torah for nine hours a day.[...]

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