Thursday, September 23, 2004

Erev Yom Kippur in Jerusalem

Two weeks ago, I alluded to the last two pages of Professor Haym Soloveitchik's article on Sefer Hassidim, from 1976. In that article he points out that most contemporary observant Jews observe Judaism as a regula, a mode of life run by strict rules that they do their best to observe. Traditional communities, i.e. before Emancipation, lived lives that were fully textured by the seasonal rhythmns of the religious year. They were, in the words of his father, 'Erev Shabbos Jews.' I spent three months last Spring and Summer in New York. It was a good, constructive time (though hard to be away from home). Shabbat was Shabbat. There was, however, no 'Erev Shabbat.' Even on Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills, no 'Erev Shabbat.' Was there pre-Shabbat hustle and bustle? Of course. Were people working down to the wire? Yes.

So what was missing?

An intangible was missing. I felt it today driving through Jerusalem. As I reached Rehov Aggripas, near Shuk Mahane Yehudah, the announcer on the radio was interviewing the novelist Naomi Ragen. He was asking her to explain why someone should stay in Israel, much less leave America to live here. She offered alot of good, Jewish, Zionist reasons. The one that hit me, though, was that only here are you enveloped by the holidays. The timing was impeccable, because there, before me, exactly that was playing itself out. People were preparing for Yom Kippur (and for Sukkot). There was a tangible atmosphere of anticipation in the air. People wished each other 'Gmar Hatima Tova' with that knowing, empathizing look in your eye that I"ve only encountered here. And that atmosphere is slowly intensifying. As I write these words, things are already slowing down, as they will until tomorrow evening. The buses will stop. The radio will stop. Time will stop. The 'power of the day' (as Maimonides says) will overpower an entire country. It's a process. It's tangible.

For me, among many other reasons, that's why I'm here. I'm here for the dimensions of the spirit and of daily life that simply don't exist anywhere else. Nowhere else can you say when you walk to the store that you've done something of historical, national importance. It's not just Yom Kippur. It's every day here, with all the troubles and the pain and the fear and the aggravation. After Yom Kippur, Jerusalem will rejoice. The atmosphere in the streets will be one of relief and a feeling of 'Let's Live.' Happens every year. Maybe that's why they call Sukkot Zman Simhatenu.

Gmar Hatima Tova.

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