Yom Kippur in Haifa of my childhood: some of us in white rushing, all too seriously, to attend “services” in one of the many shuls around, to contemplate, to find meaning, to read ancient prayers which are almost impossible to understand…. But what is really taking place in my neighborhood of old is a huge impromptu street party – no musical instruments or stages, not that far, but a “happening”: kids of different ages, most in white shirts, on bicycles, tricycles, skateboards and roller-blades enjoying the fact that the streets are empty and mostly “car-less”, zip-zapping around freely back and forth; young parents escort their toddler on what seems to be a brand-new bike, still with shiny streamers and clean, spotless training wheels, “especially for Yom Kippur”; mom’s a bit concerned; dad’s encouraging from the back, balancing the mobile gently. When this kid grows up, he can tell his children what Yom Kippur meant for him…
I am mostly in silent awe. I want to walk on and on, all night, as if to touch this wonder. The same scene repeats itself in various intersections, and it is captivating. My “religious” side (totally in “-“) thinks about all the “transgressions”, the list we just read at shul. And at the same time, I can’t help realize: People are celebrating Yom Kippur with in intense joy. Is there joy to Yom Kippur?? For those of us in shul, beating on our chests with the famous ashamnu, bagadnu… lengthy confession, the question itself seems preposterous: Yom Kippur?? Joy?? No food, no washing, no pleasures… what joy?? And yet, I would argue that Yom Kippur is absolute joy! The idea that G-d almighty, the One who created the world, who has been before everything and will eb here after, that great, awesome One, beyond words, even put anywhere in His grand agenda to forgive little, unknown me; even has me in mind, on this day… on any day… wow! I am not flawless and yet, G-d is ok with it, and let’s me be, rethink who I am, reconsider my path, regret, make amends, make new plans… there are many moments when we debate whether we believe in G-d; turns out, that while we’re busy with that, G-d is trying to let us know, He Believes in us…. In Hebrew, the word for osher, אושר shares its root with ishur, אישור permission and le’asher, to approve, לאשר, perhaps indicating that feeling we have permission – approval to be who we are is happiness.
Which leads me to think that maybe what we see in the streets of modern Israel is not an objection for the day and its meaning, but a deep, pained cry for balance: not only remorse, guilt and regret blended with sorrowful, heart aching melodies, but joy and happiness, friendship and togetherness.
Walking home from Ne’ila, my footsteps are accompanied by rhythmic banging sounds. Breathing lighter, hammer in hand, people begin to welcome the holiday when we’re commanded to be joyful, as if G-d says, ‘you know what, maybe we didn’t finish discussing everything on this one “dreadful and awe-ful” day; it is a bit much, I know; so why don’t you join me in my summer hut next week for a chill time together? There will be delicious food, beautiful decorations and special guests for us to enjoy together? I hope you will come!’
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sukkot Same’ach