gs don morris, Ph.D.
It is after 3:30 in the afternoon here in Israel. The day of heat and humidity is moving towards sundown and the populace expects some relief from such weather soon as darkness arrives. However, today’s sundown is the most special one as Yom Kippur begins near 6:25 pm depending where you live in the country.
The most unique experience for Jew and non-Jew alike should be experienced by everyone-please come to us next year and encounter something special. Allow me to share what I have witnessed each of the last 15 Yom Kippurs.
At this hour the country is beginning its shut down. Israeli TV has gone “black” and programming resumes tomorrow evening. All forms of public transportation have stopped, e.g., busses, trains, sheruts. Well not every sherut. I just saw one go by on the highway by the sea.
You actually can feel the shut down, it is becoming very quiet and we still have 3 hours of sunshine remaining. In many homes about the country families are readying for prayers, many are eating one last meal to get them through the coming 25 hour fast. This is holiest of days for religious Jews-everywhere.
Some may ask, why is this so, what is the meaning of this coming day. Here is a very brief explanation-from Judaism 101:
Significance: Day of Atonement
Observances: Fasting, Prayer and Repentance
Length: 25 Hours
Greeting: Have an easy fast
Liturgy additions: Annulment of vows; lengthy confession of sins
...In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work ... For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the L-RD. -Leviticus 16:29-30
Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The holiday is instituted at Leviticus 23:26 et seq.
The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement," and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, I mentioned the "books" in which G-d inscribes all of our names. On Yom Kippur, the judgment entered in these books is sealed. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.
I said it would be brief! As sundown arrives, the country is shut down-tight-no public or private transportation of any kind. All stores, theaters, cafes, shops hours ago stopped working. This is voluntary, the shutdown is not due to war, loss of power, or injunction -Israelis of all persuasion, religious and secular alike, Arabs, Jew and non-Jews honor this special occasion. In the electric and hazardous Middle East, Israel, surrounded by its enemies, takes 25 hours off-successfully. Well except back in 1973…
Serenity is descending upon us as I continue to write-stressors are being “washed away” replaced with a gentle quiet, in both one’s mind and spirit. Inner reflection has begun-questions are raised, thoughts are often frenetic in the beginning as one searches his/her soul-when and where appropriate forgiveness is asked-the process has begun.
Soon the darkness arrives, secular Israelis go outside by foot, bicycle, skateboard, rollers of all kinds onto the busy streets, roads and freeways where not but a few hours ago thousands of vehicles once traveled. For seculars this is typically an evening of staying outside all night long, wandering, gathering, visiting with known and soon to be known new friends.
Our borders are closed and protected by our marvelous IDF. They stand the duty these next many hours so all of us may decide how to be. We thank you all.
Please come next year-be with us-you will not regret it. I wish for all of you “an easy fast”.