The view from my veranda

Heroes and Atonement

17th September 2021, 11th Tishrei, 5782

So Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are over and I can’t believe it’s Shabbat already! I get very confused as to the day of the Gregorian calendar during this period of “non-stop” festivals.

Yom Kippur in Israel is different to anywhere else in the world.  I will explain.

  1. There are no traffic lights, they are on flashing yellow instead of red, amber and green. Why? because there are no vehicles other than police, fire and ambulance – only bicycles. Israeli children feel a huge sense of freedom having emptied the bicycle shops of their wares, pumped up the tyres, secured their helmets and prepared for that magic moment when the streets empty. It isn’t a law, it is simply tradition.
  2. After the synagogue service, generally known as Kol Nidre after the opening prayer, the world and his brother goes out walking (or shpatziren), entire families walk along the main roads of towns and villages across the country. We drove to the town of Mevasseret, just a couple of miles away, before the start of Yom Kippur, went to Dina and Yoram’s home then walked to the synagogue. We both really enjoyed the service and the familiar tunes, then we walked back down the hairpin bends of the Seven Sisters Road – the original road taken between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem before 1967. While wending our way home, together with our lovely neighbours Yael and Naftali, we bumped into Danny Adeno Abebe, his lovely wife and four children, plus huge dog and our friends Sima and Uri……
  3. Children. It is a time when children ride their bicycles and families meet up at every roundabout and square. The sense of freedom without the fear of traffic is exceptional.
  4. Yom Kippur is a time for repentance, atonement – not a time for saying sorry and going back to the way you were, it is a time in which you pledge to change. The huge litany of possible and impossible sins doesn’t mean that one has committed all of them, we atone for the sins of our people, of our world in the hope that we can change.
  5. There are very specific sounds as Yom Kippur ends. No not the sound of slurping soup, not even the sounds of clanking dishes and cutlery as the fast ends, the sound of hammers, drills and the whoops of delight from the children. Even before eating one is supposed to put the first stages of one’s Succah, or Tabernacle and each and every balcony, veranda or mirpesset springs a temporary dwelling.
  6. It is irrelevant which branch of Judaic prayer one follows. There are so many depending upon the lands of Jewish dispersion mostly, but also depending upon traditions. There’s that word again, tradition. Each of us wants to hear familiar tunes or niggunim, not because one is better than the other but because memories of our childhood spring from music.

Clearly Arab villages are not expected to desist from driving but clearly enjoy the peace and quiet of this solemn day since they don’t need to go to work so many hold street parties instead and the bicycle trend is happily adopted. In Jerusalem, and throughout the country, Moslem volunteers with United Hatzolah and Magen David Adom chose to man the ambulances on Yom Kippur so that the Jewish volunteers could be with their families and go to synagogue.

Sadly, there are those who for their own selfish reasons decide to drive on the empty roads and there were two horrific accidents yesterday. In one, a drunken moron drove at full speed on a main road filled with families promenading and children on their bicycles. He killed a 12 year old boy just before his Bar Mitzva. Barak Houri was a fine musician, an excellent student with a wonderful future that was taken away for the price of a bottle of booze. The driver was arrested on site and it was found that this was not his first DUI. I hope the judge will take away his licence for life and put him behind bars.

Tradition says that when the shofar (Ram’s Horn) is blown at the end of the Yom Kippur service that the heavens opens to our prayers. I felt deeply spiritual as the Teruah rang out over the entire country, synagogue by synagogue and I prayed. My prayer was for our children and grandchildren, going through each one by name, praying for their health and happiness. I know it sounds banal but for me it was a beautiful moment.

The Yom Kippur war in 1973 took Israel by surprise despite the fact that her leaders knew something was afoot. Perhaps their misplaced confidence after the 6 Day War did not prepare them for an extended war on several fronts.

The first battles were for the Golan Heights which had always presented an imminent danger to Israel as a whole, an incursion from the Syrians would have cut tiny Israel in half. Stories of exceptional bravery abound but perhaps the most famous is that of “Koach Zvika” when the last remaining tank out of a whole platoon stood up against an entire platoon of Syrian tanks and won the battle preventing the Syrians from reaching the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee.

Zvi was in at home in Jerusalem when suddenly the sound of radios, always silent on Yom Kippur, warned him that war had broken out. He, along with all the able bodied reservists reported for duty and was sent to the South of Israel awaiting orders. After General Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal Zvi continued southward into Egypt where he became the administrator of an IDF field hospital where they spent 4 months treating over 1,000 injured soldiers and many more thousand cases of various ailments. Many of the doctors went on to become Department heads in Israel’s major hospitals and the tales of their time together remain. Next time you see him Zvi will be more than happy to regale you with each and every one of them.

The Israel National Library has collected stories from the Yom Kippur war and this one was so special to me. Soldiers in the middle of battle built Sukkahs – Tabernacles honouring the tradition and lifting their spirits.

Ida Nudel z’l passed away this week at the age of 90. She was a physically tiny, giant of a woman, a true heroine and a brave fighter for those less fortunate, her humility and kindness were behind her decision to avoid publicity and to perform her acts of kindness quietly. I had the honour of spending a month with her when we both went to Ulpan Akiva in Ramat Poleg in 1985. While in Russia, before Perestroika, she fought for the right to come home, to come to Israel and paid a terrible price for it. Her fight was not only for herself, known as the “Guardian Angel” for her efforts to free “Prisoners of Zion” those imprisoned for wanting to emigrate to Israel.  Please read her story, her bravery and purity of spirit shine through.  

Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, names that will stay in our minds and hearts forever. I’m sure you all remember with horror of the 3 teenage boys who were captured and killed in the by Palestinian terrorists in 2014. On Monday an Israeli court ordered Hamas to pay compensation to the families of three teenagers. The Jerusalem District Court ruling requires Hamas and Hussam Qawasmeh, the convicted mastermind the abduction and killings, to pay NIS 38 million ($11.8 million) to the families. A triumph for justice and Shurat HaDin who fought the case for the families, but in some sense it is an empty victory since Hamas will not pay and never regret their cruel intentions.

I could go on and on as you know but it is Music time!

I know that Yom Kippur has passed but this rendition of Kol Nidre is so beautiful I decided to play it anyway.

Katonti – I am unworthy, a prayer and a song by Yonatan Razel. With English subtitles

Handkerchief in hand the wonderful Louis Armstrong sings the song that reminds us to stop complaining, there is beauty all around us if we just take the time to look.

I wish you a wonderful 5782, the ability to see the beauty all around us and in each other.

Shabbat Shalom dear friends, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem