Shira K., NFTY-EIE Faculty Member
Being in Israel for Yom Kippur never ceases to amaze me. I grew up in a traditional Reform synagogue like many of our students. To me, the high holidays were truly days of awe; everyone in their finest clothes and every t’filah echoed by the voice of the temple choir. This year, the group had an amazing opportunity to experience this holiday differently. On this particular Yom Kippur we experienced a double whammy — Shabbat and Yom Kippur held on the same day.
We had our “last supper” in the center of Jerusalem. We all piled on the bus to get there and by the time we were done eating, although it was still light out, the roads were nearly deserted. For Kol Nidre, the prayer marking the start of Yom Kippur, we attended services at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion — the Reform movement’s rabbinical college. The services were more reminiscent of the traditional services the kids were used to including the grand choir, a d’var torah in English, and some students ran into staff and friends from their respective camps in the States giving them a little taste of home.
Following services we took to the streets. The most amazing thing happens in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. People leave their synagogues and meet in the streets to talk, ride bikes, scooters and skateboards. No cars are on the road to disrupt the hang-out; rather people walk down the middle of the street free of any worries taking in the beauty of the city. We walked back to our youth hostel via Emek Refaim, a usually bustling street filled with restaurants and shops now flooded with people all wearing white. Students took full advantage of the empty streets even lying down in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city center.
Saturday morning the group attended services at Kehilat Kol Haneshama, a Reform synagogue made up of many native Israeli families in addition to a large population of families who made aliyah. This is the congregation where I pray regularly since my aliyah so it was particularly fun for me to show them the community that has adopted me. We walked back to relax for a few hours and the group got to experience the joys of functioning on a lunar calendar. Since holidays fall so early this year it was nearly 90 degrees!! We spent the afternoon napping and later studying some Torah to pass the time. We spoke about the story of Jonah focusing on the concept of personal responsibility, a theme they are faced with daily being part of the EIE community and a theme that is present throughout Yom Kippur. By the end of the day the kids were no doubt feeling the heat and the fatigue from the fast but they were troopers making it to Neilah at Kehilat Mevakshei Derech, A Reconstructionist synagogue directly across the street from our hostel. Counting down to the minute we broke the fast at 7:23 and the kids returned home to Tzuba.
I believe they got a lot from the day. If anything they got a truly Israeli experience observing Yom Kippur in the heat while hanging out in the middle of the streets. While the thing that still sticks out in their heads right now is the act of fasting, I have no doubt it will be one of the amazing, once in a lifetime experiences they will walk away with from this program.