Submitted By: Lydia J.
Yom Kippur is a day of somber prayer, fasting, introspection and repentance for Torah observers all over the world, but in few cities is it so easily seen as in Jerusalem itself. Residents, tourists, pilgrims and a handful of vinedressers are given the unique opportunity to see the world’s most important city grind to nearly a complete stop in reverence and obedience to Torah and its Author.
Among the many traditions of the nation, those within walking proximity of the Kotel (western wall) make their way there for a fast –breaking celebration, which includes free food and drink for everyone who attends. This year some of HaYovel’s Jerusalem-based harvesters were privileged to be among the hundreds who gathered there near sunset on Yom Kippur. The first step was getting there. The long walk from our apartment to the Old City meant leaving two hours before sunset. As we made our way down the street, it became more and more clear just how much the city had shut down. Throughout the day, an overwhelming quiet had permeated the city, largely because all the roads except for the very busiest highways had been closed to vehicle traffic-even police barricaded- to protect the sanctity of the day. As a result, the streets were instead occupied by children playing games or riding bicycles. Families with strollers took advantage of the beautiful weather, and groups of people in thoughtful discussions spilled into the streets. Many of the people we saw, including our own small group, were dressed almost entirely in white, symbolizing the day’s sanctity and a desire to be pure and spotless for the upcoming feast of Sukkot. All of the city transit, including the new train system, was shut down, and we walked along the tracks and in the streets until we at last entered the New Gate of the Old City.
The stone streets that are typically so crowded with tourists and peddlers were nearly deserted compared to their daily hustle and bustle. As we got closer to the Kotel, however, we began to join paths with others who eventually formed a stream of people dressed in black and white, flowing down the steps and through the security that led to the masses at the wall. The sound of hundreds of people praying rhythmically, wailing in repentance and ‘afflicting their souls’ (Lev. 23:27, 29) rose up from the crowds below and poured down from the surrounding rooftops where people had gathered. Soon after we had gathered on the other side of the security gate, a shofar sounded from the other side of the plaza, marking the end of the fast.
The scene quickly took on a completely different tone! The crowds that had been praying at the wall thinned to a handful of people in minutes, as everyone surged towards two tables that were piled with boxes of breads, chocolate rolls and soft drinks; a supply that miraculously didn’t run out over the next 45 minutes as everyone stuffed themselves. Before long, a joyful song spread from one end of the plaza to the other and men in long black coats and broad hats with swaying sidelocks formed a broad procession from the tables down to the Wall, singing and dancing the whole way. The festivities intensified once they got there, and the sound of their songs echoed off the stones of the Kotel and was joined by the voices of the women who were celebrating in similar fashion on their side of the Wall. Anyone that wasn’t busy dancing participated by passing around (or consuming) more snacks and drinks. Their joy was contagious, and not until late in the evening did the crowds remember the return to normal life that the morning would bring and begin to make their way out onto the streets that were just beginning to fill again with normal Shabbat evening traffic.
We rode home that night (in vans; yay!) very tired but full of excitement and anticipation for the upcoming feast. What a privilege to celebrate Sukkot in a land that holds Torah in the highest regard, and with a people who know very well how to obey Deut. 16:14 “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter…” Witnessing both the reverence of Yom Kippur and the thorough rejoicing of those entering the season of Sukkot was a beautiful reminder of what God has called his people to; a life with purpose and fullness in his commands. May we all be reminded of his steadfastness and loving kindness this Sukkot. Chag Sameach!