Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

The streets were silent.  Just police and ambulance patrols.  And yes, children on bicycles and scooters.

Men and women walked down the street dressed in white.  And Crocs.

My prayer, tefillah, did not go as planned.  I set a clock that I use only on Shabbat, and as last Shabbat was before we changed the clocks for daylight savings, I ended up waking up an hour early.  That explained why the school where the prayer services I wanted to go to was closed.  So I ended up walking to my plan B destination.  And it was far.

My initial reaction was to be frustrated.  But in the spirit of the day, I calmly accepted it.  I got the opportunity to pray facing the Old City, at a spectacular promenade overlook.  And I did make it in the end to prayer services relatively on time.  I was glad to re-learn the lesson in accepting things that are not in my control (well, little did I know at the time that it was in fact my timing error.)

I had a lot of solitude today, and a lot of time outside.

As the 26-hour period of prayer came to a close, in the final service, Neilah, when the gates close and the sun sets, I found it odd that Jewish prayer, so tightly connected to the seasons and times of day, takes place pretty much always inside.  Luckily there were windows near the ceiling of the school auditorium I was praying in, so I could see the sky change from blue to black.  Otherwise, besides my watch, how would I know?

When I initially began observing Shabbat and the holidays, I found it very frustrating that so much of my spare time was now moved indoors.  All the prayer and festive meals – indoors.  Why must we be so disconnected from nature, especially when it seems that we are trying to reach out and connect with the world and Gd’s creation?

After breaking the fast I headed out again to begin building a Sukkah.  Many Jews have the custom to rush from one mitzvah to the next by building a Sukkah as soon as Yom Kippur is over.  It’s a nice idea, but even right after Yom Kippur I remain skeptical that most people are as bustling to run after the mitzvot that are not as publicly obvious.  Sure enough, a hardworking entrepreneur was already selling the schach, the dried branches that go on top of the Sukkah at a major intersection in my neighborhood less than an hour after the fast ended.

In addition to Tu B’Shevat, Sukkot is a time when I feel like we are really encouraged to connect more with nature.  Eating and sleeping outside will be the name of the game.  No intense cleaning or food restrictions or extra-long prayers either.  I love this holiday!


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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