For Yom Kippur, formally known as the Day of Atonement, I ventured back to Jerusalem for a second dose of high holiday experience. I left the day before the holiday began on Monday night to stay at the Heritage House so that I could see Selichot- communal prayers that ask for forgiveness, traditionally said around Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur, the days of which vary depending on your background. As a communal prayer, Selichot can only be said with a congregation. Going to the Kotel at midnight, I saw the largest congregation I've ever seen- thousands and thousands of the Jewish people, gathering at the Kotel to ask for forgiveness until 2 am the night before Yom Kippur. Chief Rabbis of Israel lead the ceremony with a surround sound megaphone system and projector (you can see in the photo below on the bottom left of the Dome of the Rock). Whereas the sight is one I'll never forget, it was the tone of the tableaux below that will truly stick with me forever. Even the power of "Amen" when it is said by ten thousand people right before your eyes is enough to give me goosebumps.
Unfortunately, I wasn't down below with everyone by the Kotel. My friends and I stayed on the less congested rooftop of the Aish building, along with a handful of other who chose to participate in Selichot further from the organized chaos. I was also lucky enough to be at the Kotel earlier this year in May for Shavuout, where everyone gathers at sunrise to commemorate the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. However, whereas Shavuout is a bit more festive, Yom Kippur is more solemn and reflective. Here, people are praying for their lives...literally, it is said that on Rosh Hashana it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed who is to be written down in the Book of Life for the year. You can feel the repentance in their voices and hear the sincerity in its numbers.
Erev Yom Kippur and the following day echo this idea. In Jerusalem, everyone wears white and lots of people don't wear shoes. The fact that we fast and obstain from food and drink further amplifies the angelic and spiritual connection. My pre-fast meal was provided by the Heritage House and I went to services at Aish for the nighttime service, Kol Nidrei. Our hostel locks at midnight, so I went to the Kotel at night for about a half-hour, this time at which there were not many people. Fast forward through four prayer services (Schacharit, Mussaf, Minchah, Neilah) and two naps, and it was the easiest fast and most spiritual Yom Kippur I could have asked for. I've never participated in the Neilah evening service before back at home, and being able to recite the "closing of the gates" in sight of the Kotel before the break fast added a new dimension of meaning for me. Despite the supposedly morbid feel Yom Kippur can sometimes take on, in the Old City it was really a day of underlying happiness. Joy for the fact our sins are forgiven and joy for our closeness to G-d on this day. One of the last things we say in the Neilah service before the break fast is "Next Year in Jerusalem," and I can't express the importance of saying these words from right outside the Kotel itself. I can only hope these words will ring true for the future! Sorry mom!
And as if Yom Kippur isn't enough, Sukkot starts tonight and carries on for the next seven days! Because Shabbat falls in between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, the only day people can go grocery shopping and stock up for the start of Sukkot was the day after Yom Kippur. I made the mistake of going to the Israeli version of Costco (Osher-Ad) on Thursday morning and had to a) stalk people in the parking lot for 15 minutes in order to get a shopping cart after they unloaded their car b) navigate amongst the other 200 shoppers in the store and c) wait an entire hour on line at the cashier. At this point, I guess I was like every other Israeli in the store because I too needed to buy supplies for Shabbat. Our apartment unit hosted Friday night dinner for the PTK cohort for the first time, and it was definitely successful. My roommate slaved all day in the kitchen making delicious meatballs (Emily, this is your shout out....) and we had an abundance of food like any good, traditional, Jewish shindig.
It might be a strange way to track time, but it was my fifth Shabbat in Israel- my first was on the Almog Kibbutz, the second and third at the other PTK apartments, my fourth at my Aunt's house and this Shabbat at HaShlosha/home. Next Shabbat during Sukkot I will be going to my second favorite place in Israel (after Jerusalem) way up north in Tzfat/Safed/Sefat, however you choose to spell it. Looking forward to the Sukkot festival and the cooler weather of course :)
And in other news:
- I signed up for the Tel Aviv half marathon
- Israel Experience is taking the ITF-ers on a tiyul "up north" Wednesday/Thursday
- I will be going to my host teacher for Simchat Torah on Sunday