Going into the High Holy Days this year I was really excited for an incredible experience being in Jerusalem. I was going to be singing with the Cantorial Students in the choir. I had plans for a great meal at a friend’s house for the first night and hosting a dinner for the second night. At first it was not all it was cracked up to be.
True to form, Rosh HaShanah started out great! Selichot services at HUC were moving, especially the guitars leading Havdallah on Saturday night. After our shorter service I chose to go to an additional Slichot service at Shirah Hadasha. I ran into a small problem though; I didn’t own a Sleichot Machzor of my own. Luckily a generous congregant let my friend and me look on with him as the three of us worked through the service together. They were very quick and I walked away feeling like something was missing.
To make matters worse, after Rosh HaShanah I was left with a hollow taste in my mouth. The Apples and Honey couldn’t wash the taste out of my mouth.
I just didn’t have the most meaningful experience in either the evening or morning services. I was in such a bad mood that I decided to take Friday for myself, to have my own personal way of bringing in the New Year.
For all of the problems, Rosh HaShanah wasn’t a completely bad experience. The meals with my friends were great. The first night was a small gathering and we had fantastic conversations. A little corny of an idea, but each of us shared something about the last year and something we were really excited to experience or something we wanted to improve upon.
The dinner the second night involved more than 50 people that came together to celebrate the new year. I ended up playing a small role in this dinner, and need to send a massive shout out to my roommate for putting it all together and it was great to have most of the college together.
Yom Kippur however, was a much more meaningful day for me.
I had a fantastic meal as a last meal before the fast with some friends at Timol Shimshon, a full recounting is available on my Year in Israel Blog, which was a very filling brunch in a great atmosphere with some great people.
Since Israel is already on “Winter Time” -we moved an hour back almost two weeks ago- our fast started at 5:00pm with Kol Nidre services. Again led by many of the School of Sacred Music students, the melodies were beautiful. Watching the sun set on the old city from Blaustein Hall was amazing. Combined with a powerful sermon about mastering our fear this was a much more fulfilling prayer for me. Before closing services, Rabbi Naamah Kelman told us to take to the streets of Jerusalem to see something special.
The entire city was closed down. Normally on Shabbat you can still hear taxis and many other people milling about the city. On Yom Kippur it was almost silent. In the four hours that I was out walking with friends, I saw less than 10 cars.
Down on the street Emek Rafaim, it was packed! Hundreds of people out talking to each other, finding each other’s company and most of them dressed entirely in white for the Day of Judgment. It was incredible. In the quiet, we walked. I walked with groups of friends up and down the road until I ran into another student who said she had just come from the Kotel. Since there is nothing to do aside from be with people and walk the city, to the Kotel we went.
I half expected to find hundreds of people at The Wall, but it was quiet. There were a bunch of people there, but there was something quiet about it. Maybe it was the crisp, fall air. Maybe it was the peace of the night, but a special mood was hanging over the area.
A few of us were not ready to go home yet. So we continued to walk. Heading down the hill from the Kotel, we walked through the quiet into a non-Jewish part of town. There were people selling things and cars out and about. It was very interesting to see the different sides of the city.
Speaking of the interesting sides of the community; at the Kotel I really enjoyed the clash of modern culture and tradition. While we were sitting outside enjoying the space, two men walked by. One was wearing a knit-kippah identifying them with Rebbe Nachman, and the other with a Tallit Kitan sticking out of the bottom of his Michael Vick jersey. The two of them walked to the wall to pray. I thought to myself, “Only in Jerusalem.”
Although I started out the High Holy Days with a very bad vibe, in the end I was able to derive some meaning from the experience. In reality, there was nothing like walking the quiet streets of Jerusalem. If you ever have the chance, I would highly recommend giving it a shot. As for me, when things are going perfectly, I turned to my friends and was able to make my experience better.
L’Shanah Tovah from Jerusalem,