Autumn’s wandering birds carry with them foreign scents, exotic fragrances, and a slight touch of mystery. One can only wonder what secrets hide under their wings, carried away like blowing leaves by autumn winds. Exaltation is in the air.
I love the High Holidays. I love the spirituality, the sense of connection, shared hopes, joint prayers, inner reflection and New Year’s resolutions. So many opportunities, if we only will it, try harder, work vigorously, we can turn them into reality.
It is incredibly uplifting to be surrounded by “Shanah Tova” greetings wherever I go, seeing my personal basket of best wishes for the New Year get filled, and then spreading around these wishes to others, sharing the dreams for a better year, a wonderful 5779.
Tomorrow night we stand to recite Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur’s opening prayer. I will be imagining how simultaneously, millions of Jews from all backgrounds and affiliations will be reciting the same exact words. Perhaps in different accents, most likely in many different tunes and melodies, but with similar desires at heart—shared purity entering the holy day, all facing Jerusalem.
This shared feeling of belonging, the powerful links between Jews across the globe, present and past, is our unique essence; it is what defines us as the “eternal people.”
Israel is a Jewish country with the vast majority of Israelis being secular (close to 70%). They live proudly as Israelis and a large percentage of them define their Jewishness by that designation alone—Israeli. These Israelis will not normally attend services at synagogues or follow other Jewish rituals. Being of Israeli identity is enough.
However on this holy day of Yom Kippur, as cantors across the Jewish world wrap themselves with while kittles, (a garment symbolizing purity), a spiritual white tablecloth wraps our entire Jewish state. On this very day Israelis shed their usual cynicism, leave behind disputes and negativity, forget for 25 hours their criticism toward religious authorities, and bend their heads to fit under this white tablecloth. Then they become part of the magical power of the Day of Atonement, and feel Jewish like never before.
Traffic ceases. Highways turn into children’s playgrounds. Our busy airport is closed. There are no broadcasts on television and radio. An entire country is on hold. Everything is shut off for 25 hours, allowing a full and complete atmosphere of serenity to take over. What a feeling!
Around Israel, at parks, community centers and town squares, areas wide open to the public, services will take place.
During the two days of Rosh Hashanah, thousands joined in the “Shofar in the Park” program, where hundreds of parks across the country offered special Rosh Hashanah services, alternative ways to celebrate the New Year, by welcoming people to a different Jewish experience, one closer to their hearts.
Israeli community centers, our JCCs here, play a major role in being the Israeli “town square,” reaching out to all Israelis, Jews and non-Jews, offering them what for many was denied due to religious antagonism.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to live at different places; I have experienced Yom Kippur outside Israel. But there is nothing like the power of the collective in Israel, where the holy atmosphere is so condensed, so present, so alive.
This past year had its share of miseries and pain, when balloons and kites became a symbol of hatred and animosity, when once again we were so close, too close to another war in Gaza, where peace drew farther away.
Yet 5778 had a record numbers of visiting tourists from all over the world, celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary, rejoicing in this country’s vibrant culture. They surrounded themselves with 70 faces of creativity, beauty, success and knowledge, allowing Israel to be the start up nation it is, on so many levels.
May 5779 allow balloons and kites to be just that, symbols of joy that fly away with a smile.
May 5779 bring peace closer. May this New Year allow us to witness peace’s presence, and be blessed by its promises, together with our neighbors, and enjoy prosperity.
May 5779 offer our neighbor countries and all refugees, shelter and protection. And may 5779 showcase nature’s beauty and wonders, rather than the mighty forces of destruction and disaster.
And may the overwhelming idea that we are one people envelop us as we recite Kol Nidrei, stay with us throughout the year, allowing us to sing in different voices and melodies shared prayers.
Like the birds bringing mystery and whisper from afar, can we usher in hope on the delicate but sturdy wings that find their way here against the wind.
“אבינו מלכינו, שמע קולנו, חדש עלינו שנה טובה”
“Lord our God, Hear our voice, bless this year.”
G’mar chatima tova (May you be sealed in the book of life),
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center