A Very Different Yom Kippur

The core idea behind Yom Kippur is that, in the orthodox Jewish tradition, we are to fast, pray, and repent for our sins. My personal experience of Yom Kippur since making aliyah, has been as part of the shul congregation, where I have had some truly spiritual experiences courtesy of some inspirational davening and a real feeling of community spirit. Not this year.

First, the shul is closed. Second, while there is an outdoor minyan within a stone’s throw of our building, outside congregations are supposedly limited to 20 people who should all be socially distancing. The acoustical challenge is substantial. The communal spirit will be absent. It simply won’t be the same.

(That having been said, I had a different sense of belonging when I was at the minyan on Friday night. There was something noteworthy, memorable, and good about being a part of 60+ people – in three ‘capsules’ of 20, more or less – standing outside in the playground, davening together as best they could.)

In addition, the lack of air conditioning – and the expected unusually high temperature tomorrow – make for another challenge or two. In this regard, I was impressed by our rabbi’s clear announcement that it was more important to fast than to pray with a minyan, and if you thought you wouldn’t be able to cope with the heat, you should stay at home and do your fasting, praying, contemplation, and repenting at home. That option makes sense to me.

Whatever you do for Yom Kippur, may you be blessed with a good sweet year.

September goes out (with a) fast

I haven’t felt like blogging for the last couple of months. My head has been elsewhere, mostly because of the extended birthday tour and celebrations – thanks Susan! – which I do need to cover at some point. Gaming has also suffered. Too many things to do, not enough time. Maybe the situation will improve after Yom Kippur. Certainly, Sukkot should be a good break and another chance to recharge my batteries.

To those fasting, may it be meaningful and easy.

Gmar chatima tovah – גמר חתימה טובה

Fast Fast

Yom Kippur starts tonight.

For those that mark the day, and fast, I wish you an easy fast.

For those that just mark the day, I wish you a worthwhile day.

To all, I hope that you will have a good year, with an Almighty seal of approval in the Book of Life.

Hey Volkswagen! This is how you reduce exhaust emissions.

In the light of Volkswagen’s woes, maybe some of their (new?) senior management might like to invest time in reading a snippet from the Jerusalem Post:

As traffic rolled to a stop for the duration of Yom Kippur, so too did levels of nitrogen oxides – contaminants prominent in vehicular emissions.

Similar to each year, as child bicyclists and pedestrians take over the country’s major arteries, Israel’s urban centers experienced much more breathable air for the duration of the holiday. The dramatic improvement is indicative of transportation’s role as the major source of pollution in cities, the Environmental Protection Ministry said on Wednesday night.

In the Gush Dan region, nitrogen oxide levels decreased to about 50 times lower than those prior to Yom Kippur – from 139 parts per billion to just 2.8 parts per billion, according to the ministry. Jerusalem’s nitrogen oxide levels plunged to about 64 times lower than pre-holiday values – from 179 parts billion also to 2.8 parts per billion – while those in Haifa fell to about 82 times lower – from 229 parts per billion to 2.8 parts per billion as well, the ministry said.

That’s quite some difference. You can read the whole thing here.  And no cheating was involved!

Incidentally, I am interested to see the full details of how Volkswagen cocked up in such a dramatic (and stupid) fashion. Who, in their right mind, ever thought the fiddle would stay secret?

Yom Kippur – Remembering the sermon on the mound

It’s been 50 years since the Sermon on the mound. Unbelievable. The Jerusalem Post reminds us:

This Yom Kippur marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most seminal moments in postwar American Jewish life, an event – or, to be more precise, one that did not occur – that had a profound impact on how US Jewry came to feel about itself and its place in society.

In 1965, the Day of Atonement coincided with October 6, the date on which the Los Angeles Dodgers were going up against the Minnesota Twins in the first game of baseball’s World Series.

The Dodgers’ best pitcher, Sandy Koufax, was expected to lead the charge for the team. With a dazzling overhand curveball that seemed to defy gravity and a blazing fastball that was virtually unhittable, Koufax was dubbed by Hall of Famer Ernie Banks “the greatest pitcher I ever saw.” Or, as Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci once wrote, “Koufax was so good, he once taped a postgame radio show with Vin Scully before the game.”

But Koufax wasn’t just a baseball superstar.

He was also a Jew from Brooklyn, and a proud one at that. And although he was completely secular, he found himself facing a dilemma: stand by his teammates and play, or respect the sanctity of the day.

Koufax chose the latter, sitting out the first game (which the Dodgers went on to lose). His choice caused a sensation among an entire generation of American Jews, from the most observant to the least active. It underlined that Jews need not feel discomfort about their identity while taking part in American public life.

One of many such examples, but one of the most famous and enduring.

As we head in to this Yom Kippur, it remains only for me to say:

“G’mar chatima tovah 5776”

An easy fast to one and all taking part.

Biking season

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

The front gears on my bike have been acting up. I know enough to make an attempt at repairs, but whatever I was doing wasn’t working. So, (because what else do you do on Tzom Gedalia?) after work I rode my bike to the bike shop.

I had a suspicion it would be busy, but did not appreciate how busy. It was mobbed. The forecourt was jammed with new bikes – it looked like they had taken delivery of a batch of 50 or so. And there were a couple of tall towers of stacked bike boxes waiting to be opened. The place was also busy with customers.

To cut a long story short, they were too busy to do the repair and had no space to store my bike, and I will need to go back again. Why so busy? It’s about to be the peak of the biking season – Yom Kippur…

Because over 90% of Israelis do not drive on Yom Kippur (some sources say it is 99%) the roads are emptier than at any other time. On the night of Yom Kippur particularly, Israeli kids (and adults) celebrate by riding on the road. Both sides. Both directions. I never said the roads were safer than at any other time…

So that’s why the bike shop was so busy. It’s the biking season!

A Yom Kippur option

If you are a Tel Avivian and not of a religious bent, you may be interested in this piece from Globes:

Tel-O-Fun offers free Tel Aviv bicycles on Yom Kippur

Subscribers with annual membership can use bicycles for free from 11 am Friday through 1 am Sunday.

Tel Aviv bicycle rental initiative Tel-O-Fun, which on regular days limits free rentals to half an hour, will allow unlimited free rentals on Yom Kippur.

The special offer will go into effect on Friday, the eve of Yom Kippur, at 11:00 am, and will be valid until 1:00 am Sunday morning.

The offer is only for subscribers with annual memberships – in other words, primarily Tel Aviv residents. Occasional users who do not have an annual membership will be charged the regular rate.

No, I am not tempted! But riding a bike on the empty streets on Yom Kippur must be a fun thing to do.

[The full article is here.]

Always on guard

As we head towards Yom Kippur (starting tonight), this story on the IDF blog is a fascinating reminder of the unique nature of Israel, and the service the soldiers of our citizen army contribute to the country. There’s also an element of memorial, given this is the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War:

The Holiest Day of the Year: How IDF Soldiers Observe Yom Kippur

“…the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur begins, a day known as the most somber in the Jewish calendar. Also known as The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is marked by long but beautiful prayer services and a 25-hour fast. Jews of all denominations around the world will be observing the holiday, but that doesn’t mean the Israel Defense Forces will be letting its guard down.

Day-to-day work in the IDF comes to a halt on all holidays like Yom Kippur, but essential security work must be active 24/7 as a result of constant threats posed by Israel’s enemies. In 1973, Syria and Egypt abused the holiness of the day by attacking Israel while most of soldiers were fasting at home or in the Synagogue.”

Read the whole thing, here.