The Sounds of Silence
I'm sure many of us miss parts of our old lives. I told someone today that I miss the summer fog and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I think I also miss super-sized everything. My uncertainty is due to the fact that while I love not having to purchase dish soap, or milk, or juice as often when I buy it supersized, I certainly don't like lugging it home in my agulah. That said, I love being here.
The holidays here are the same holidays we celebrated in California: 2 days of Rosh Hashanah, one day of Yom Kippur, BUT only one Yom Tov of Sukkot instead of two....okay, my week's holiday is one day shorter--I can live with this.
But there are other differences, both tangible and intangible. The biggest difference is that we're celebrating these holidays in a Jewish country. That's right, it's OUR party, as another blogger so wittily put it. For a change, the holiday being celebrated officially by the government is a Jewish holiday. For those who have grown up in Israel, or been here since their 20-somethings, this may not be a big deal. For me, who scrimped and saved vacation time every year so I could spend it on Rosh Hashanah, on Yom Kippur, on Sukkot and Pesach, it's amazing. Schools close; businesses are only open for a half-day; government offices are closed. We can all celebrate together!
I don't have to explain to my supervisor what Yom Kippur is and why I can't work on it "just this one time;" I need not explain ever again that my colleague is NOT lying when he says that Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday; I don't have to recite Avinu Malkenu to the sounds of the swim team practicing next door, our prayers punctuated by the coach's whistle.
Its different in Israel. A better difference. A wonderful difference.
Yom Kippur was a day that dawned cool and clear. I was awakened by the silence. We live in an apartment building on Derech Chevron, a busy major thoroughfare to downtown Jerusalem. Most mornings I am awakened by the sounds of the rush hour traffic long before the alarm rings. I awoke on Yom Kippur to Silence.
It was SO silent that I got up and went outside. I had, of course, heard that no one drove on Yom Kippur. It was quite another thing to actually experience this. At 6:00 am, there wasn't a car on the street except for an ambulance. People were already walking to synagogue, most dressed all or partly in white. I sat in the park and watched as more and more people appeared, like a stream running downhill into Baka, heading to prayer with tallit and siddurim under arm, or in some cases, the tallit streaming from their shoulders. The quiet deepened as the sun rose higher, and then I saw a large group of Ethiopian Jews, men and women, dressed completely in white robes, walking down the middle of the bus lanes of Derech Chevron, singing, as they made their way to the Kotel for Shacharit.
When I was a child, I saw the world more completely than I ever have as an adult: I noticed the pattern of the leaves, the twining of the tree trunks, the pattern of the bark, the different kinds and elevations of the clouds, the textures of the grass and became acquainted with those who lived in the grass, the trees and the sky. Somehow adults lose the close acquaintance with the real world as we rush around our industrialized lives, peering into our computers and producing reams of paper that have some immediate purpose that will mean nothing in another century.
But this day, on Yom Kippur, the world here in Jerusalem was still. For the first time in many years, I was reacquainted with that world of grass and tree and sky, and in the silence of the city I heard the birdsong, the sigh of wind in the pines and I realized that Jerusalem really is a city built in the mountains. For this one day it felt like a mountain-top and not like a city. For this one day, I could feel the Heaven and the Earth without the interference of traffic, of horns, of brakes, without the cacophony of daily life that intrudes on us all.
I've never experienced a Yom Kippur so completely in my life. Even if it is every bit as quiet next year, there is something about this first, most perfect, silent and introspective day that will always remain with me.