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empty streets and full hearts - Yom Kippur

This Yom Kippur has been like no other. I'm sure this rings true for many of us, praying with masks on the holiest day of the year. But I don't mean this. In fact, I have already gotten so used to the mask being something so obvious of my day to day life in public, that I don't think about it anymore - same like I don't consciously think about my glasses on my nose. 

I am talking about the extraordinary circumstance the whole global community is in now and the Jewish people as a global people with it. This year more than ever we are aware of how intertwined our fate is and that we all sit in the same boat. So this year I believe many have been praying not only for the atonement of the Jewish people, but also for the atonement of the whole world from this terrible virus' snare. 

For Yizkor today the Rabbi of the minyan I was part of for Yom Kippur - VaAni Tfila - urged people to stay at their places and consider praying for all the souls lost to the pandemic, even if one's parents were still alive. 

More so - this year more than ever we realize how little is in our hands, and how everything can be overturned by something so tiny and invisible as this virus. I was thinking about the "invisible and bigger than us" during prayers today and realized that this description fits both HaShem and this virus on this day...

This Yom Kippur has also been like no other for me personally, out of the simple fact that I am in the Holy Land in the Holy City on the holiest day. The atmoshere was something special and I urge everyone to set this on their must do list! Only when you have actually been here you start to understand the whole concept of pilgrimage for holidays and what it does to the human psyche. A people united for one cause that day - praying and pleading with God to forgive their sins from compassion and loving-kindness - is something very powerful. Everyone working on themselves and proclaiming to the world that change is possible! That we are not bound by our raising, by our human condition, by circumstances. That those are only mere excuses, that keep us from being who we truly are meant to be.

I have been paraphrasing from the Koren Sacks Machzor, that I can only recomend to anyone who wishes to read some of the most incredible insights into the text of the Machzor and the background on the origins and practices of Yom Kippur. 

Rabbi Sacks quoted two prayers by the Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev: He was very famous for praying heavily in defense of the Jewish people. He would pray: HaShem, the Merciful, I have a deal for You: We have our sins, and you have your forgiveness. Lets exchange our sins for your forgiveness. If You say to me that this is a bad deal, I will say to you: What is Your forgiveness good without our sins?

On another occasion he would pray and compare the Jewish people to worn and torn tefillin lying on the ground. He would say to HaShem: We are like your tefillin, cast down to the ground. How can you walk by and not pick us up and mend us?

Rabbi Sacks also noted why we read about sexual ethics at Mincha of Yom Kippur: Sexual ethics is what has always set us apart from other nations. This is especially notable in the book of Genesis. The most part of Genesis is dedicated to stories about family and relationships. Those constructs have always been the bearing flag of the Jewish people: Relationships are holy. 

Another beautiful and simple commentary by Rabbi Sacks: In Unetana Tokef we say that Tshuva, Prayer and Charity avert the severity of judgement. Tshuva is looking inward, Prayer is looking upward and Chatity is looking outward. Only when we do all three of those, can we reach full atonement. 

I still cannot really put VaAni Tefila into a box, but then again why should I? Every minjan here is unique and I should cherish that. I knew that my high holidays would be completely different that what I am used to. I tried to keep an open mind and remind myself of this every now and then. VaAni Tefila took things slow and with much kavanah - which is also why we started at 5:15 with the service (yes, I was up at 4:30) - and the whole community, even though spread out over a school yard, prayed as one moving body-spirit together. There was crying and dancing. Clapping and singing. (You first think the clapping is weird, but when you try it yourslef, you realize it releases a special power in prayer.) 

In summary this Yom Kippur has been very rewarding in regards to my spirutual journey. And I know this is only the start.

PS: something I also realized in retrospective on the last month (wow! I am in Israel for one month already!) is that everything feels so much more intense here. I think it's both a combination of moving to a new country and being in Israel that creates this feeling. I am still processing many things, as so much is happening, so this might also be a reason.

As always, thanks for reading - please reach out with your comments and questions - we'll stay in touch!

Shana Tova and get hyped for Sukkot!


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