Tag Archives: yom kippur

A Vietnamese Yom Kippur

by Kelley Kidd

A Yom Kippur spent fasting on the beautiful island paradise of Phu Quoc, in Vietnam, is not my typical Day of Atonement. But somehow that’s where I found myself, fasting after a seaside dinner in a bungalow. I stayed up late that night gazing into the sea reflecting, and wondering at its vastness. The next day, an early morning moto ride led us to a waterfall in a secluded jungle, where I splashed in the water and lost a flip flop, but where I also took the time to sit on a tree branch with water rushing across my legs and meditate. I considered my resolutions for the coming year, considered what I had noticed in my life that I wanted to change and to improve, and what to keep. I focused on my desire to be more courageous and open, and to live with gratitude, and as I gazed at the beauty around me, I made it my goal to find that kind of peace, joy and beauty in my life every day.

By 10:30 that morning, I was on a private boat out on the water, awed by the absolute beauty of the sparkling water and sunshine. In keeping with my resolutions, I went snorkeling and jumped off the top of the boat a few times—things I would often have been too timid to try. I spent the entire day in a state of wonder at the world, and my own life, and made a conscious effort to focus in on it, savor it, and pay attention to it so that I could preserve that sense of gratitude.

By most standards, this is not what Yom Kippur generally looks like. However, I don’t think that spending my Yom Kippur in hungry bliss detracted from the meaning or experience of the holiday. On the contrary, rather than spending the day exclusively in backwards-looking repentance (which I do also appreciate, as I actually love Yom Kippur), I was able to spend it looking forward to the new year as a time in which I wanted to incorporate the beauty, gratitude and wonder connected to its beginning.

To me, this meant that the traditional way is not even close to the only way, but rather, that personalized approaches can bring value and renewed meaning to faith and practice. Another blog inspired by the idea is the Wandering Jew, written by Ben Harris, who seems to share my appreciation for adventurous Judaism. He traipsed across the Jewish world and traced his experiences, many of which revolved around learning from non-traditional, and even many non-Jewish, sources. None of this detracts from its value. Similarly, I find that a Jew can experience Judaism even far removed from it.

The Jewish people are by no means a global majority, despite our capacity to maintain a sense of community and collectivity no matter where we may be. But our frequent isolation from the majority around us means that we must also cultivate a personal understanding of faith, one that can manifest itself even far from anything familiar or typically Jewish. By making Judaism my own, I am able to access it anywhere, because it exists within me, rather than as something I need to take in from outside.

Not So Secular: Jews Occupy Wall Street

by Steven Philp

The Occupy Wall Street movement is populated by the disaffected and anti-religious left–that is, if you ignore the Jews. A recent article by Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times argues that counter to much of American history–where faith communities often stood at the vanguard of progressive causes–this particular movement shows the widening gap “between the religious right and the not-so-religious left.”

Landsberg finds evidence of this in his cursory examination of the Occupy L.A. protest, where the only signs of faith communities are a meditation tent and a sukkah. Yet Landsberg gives those short shrift, pointing instead to the lack of organized Christian involvement. He interviews John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. Green bemoans the dearth of Christian representation. “Where are the mainline Protestants? Where are the Quakers?” Green asks. “There’s been relatively little denominational involvement.”

What Landsberg fails to recognize is the  Jewish involvement in the protests that extends beyond a small, temporary structure outside Los Angeles City Hall. Our participation in the movement is organized, pervasive, and–most importantly–inspired by the values of our community. In early October, Jews of all ages came out en masse to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidre service. According to an article published by the Huffington Post, several hundred people attended the event in New York, with sister services occurring in other major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. The Wall Street service was sponsored by Jewish organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Shalom Center; 100 prayer books were donated by the Rabbinical Assembly, the governing body of the American Conservative movement. Daniel Sieradski–one of the event planners–found his inspiration to organize the service from his Jewish values. Paraphrasing Isaiah 58:5–the haftarah (additional reading) for Yom Kippur–Sieradski explains, “You can fast for a day, you cover yourself in ashes, you can wear a sack cloth, but who cares if you are not out there feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, breaking the bonds of oppression?”

Following this event, temporary structures started springing up at protests across the United States as part of a coordinated effort to Occupy Sukkot. Facebook pages were created to arrange for the provision of sukkot, lulavim and other ritual objects necessary for Sukkot observance. Sukkot were raised in cities with large Jewish populations like New York and Los Angeles, and in smaller Jewish enclaves like Seattle and Portland.

The connection between Sukkot and the Occupy Wall Street movement was a natural one. Writing for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu explains: “For the newly or long-time homeless, the sukkah provides shelter. For those in danger of losing homes, the sukkah is a fragile home that nonetheless stands firm. For those who have lost jobs, the sukkah offers a bountiful table for all, old and young.” For eight days the sukkah became a powerful symbol of the Occupy movement, and of the Jewish resolve to stand on the side of justice in the face of adversity.

In a way, the Occupy Judaism initiative has become a movement within a movement. With a Facebook page, Twitter account, and e-mail lists, it has the ability to rapidly mobilize hundreds of Jews, who share the dissatisfaction of their peers while simultaneously drawing inspiration from the Jewish tradition. Even with the diversity of opinion among Jewish participants, this population belies the characterization of the Occupy protests as a secular movement–rather, the character of Occupy Judaism is the distinctly Jewish mix of the spiritual and cultural. Sieradski explains, “I am less concerned about halakhah–Jewish law–and traditional observance than I am about the prophetic character of recognizing the divine in my fellow human being.”

Israeli Holidays: Reaching New Highs

by Erica Shaps

While I gaped at my surroundings with shock and wonder, my Yom Kippur hosts smiled at me with amusement and understanding. Since they moved to Israel decades ago, the vacant highways and main roads filled with strolling figures clad in white, children learning to ride shiny new bicycles, and teens racing skateboards up and down Haifa’s steep hills were taken for granted. For me, though, the scene looked like some form of post-apocalyptic utopia. It was a mesmerizing and moving sight, a true embodiment of the “Jewish and democratic” state ideal.

As I reflect on my first Yom Kippur in Israel, I realize that it also serves as an obvious visual representation of the contrast between American and Israeli Judaism. It is not uncommon to hear platitudes about the differences between Israeli and American Judaism: In Israel, there is a drastic divide between secular and religious, which is mostly seen as synonymous with Orthodox Judaism. In the States, we are quick to categorize ourselves within the frameworks of Orthodox , Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Renewal Judaism. American Judaism is limited by lack of infrastructure, knowledge, funds and commitment. Israeli Judaism suffers from the controlling nature of a radically conservative Rabbinate and a lack of egalitarian and progressive options for those who may want them. That these gross generalizations pervade our cultures illustrates the divide.

The subtler distinctions, the kinds that can only truly be understood by witnessing them, are more important, presenting valuable learning opportunities for Americans and Israelis. At no time was this more apparent to me than over the High Holidays.

I am guilty of thinking of Jewish religious diversity in terms of the denominational spectrum. While this may be fairly accurate in the United States, the paradigm falls short of fully describing Judaism in Israel. During Rosh Hashanah and the following Shabbat, I had the opportunity to attend four different services. Though three out of four would be considered Orthodox, they were quite different from each other, suggesting that the religious community in Israel is not nearly as monolithic as we here in the States might believe it to be. One service met in a schoolroom filled with patio chairs. One was in a beautiful community center’s designated prayer space. One kept an orderly structure and tempo; another was completely organic and filled with spontaneous singing and dancing. Opportunities for women to participate varied greatly at each of the four minyanim. These differences do not even begin to touch upon the ethnic and cultural differences among traditionally Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi congregations.

In addition, over the course of the High Holidays I felt completely welcomed and embraced, an experience that is not always replicated stateside. At all four of my Rosh Hashanah locations, as well as at the Haifa synagogue I attended for Yom Kippur, no one asked me for a ticket or any form of proof that I belonged. Although I had never been to the synagogue in Haifa before, I was offered an honor. I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable or unwelcome even though I was not a paying member.

Finally, the High Holidays in Israel are never a spectator sport. Although I love the booming voice of a hazzan and the graceful melodies of a choir, I sometimes find it too easy to sit back and listen to the prayers as if I were at a concert. This is not the case in Israel. Various community members led services with interesting and creative tunes. Participants sang loudly and passionately along with the leader, sometimes even getting up to dance. During announcements, seated participants called out events, stories or invitations. To varying degrees, each of the five services I attended felt natural, informal, and designed to foster participation.

I do not believe American and Israeli Judaism can, or should, look identical; each culture has its unique advantages and challenges. But that doesn’t mean that the differences between the two societies and their Jewish practices should not be explored and discussed. We can all improve by viewing our strengths and weakness through the lens of a society that is different from our own.  Israelis can learn from the generally unproblematic coexistence of various denominations in American Judaism,  and American Jews can learn from the the unrefined, active and welcoming quality of many services in Israel. In the New Year, I hope global Jewish communities can find opportunities for meaningful interactions with increased frequency, grow together, and be stronger for our efforts.

Yom Kippur, Israel and Turkey

By Leigh Nusbaum

There is a saying in my High Holy Day siddur, the Gates of Repentance, that says, “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”

This sentence always unnerves me when I hear it. I feel as though I have not received that clean slate that I am supposed to possess upon breaking my fast, that my name’s inscription in the Book of Life is still in question the moment after the Ni’lah service is over.

My own personal fears aside, I do wonder what went through the minds of Israel’s political leaders this Yom Kippur if they heard this line as well, particularly when it comes to the issue of Turkey.

For someone who has visited Israel three times in the last five years and has spent the past summer living and working in Istanbul, I find the breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel both distressing and disturbing. Eyal Peretz, the head of the Arkadas (Turkish for friend) Association, an Israel-Turkish cultural center in Israel, puts it best, “I’ve seen how a warm relationship has been erased in one fell swoop. It’s very painful, very frustrating.”

The expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Turkey is the most recent chapter in a disappointing saga that has been several years in the making. In 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a harsh public criticism of Operation Cast Lead, a three-week invasion of the Gaza Strip, at the World Economic Forum, saying to President Shimon Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.”

A year later was Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s “controversial behavior” towards the Turkish ambassador to Israel in 2010, when he stated to Israeli television cameras, “The important thing is that people see that he’s low and we’re high and that there is no flag here.” Ayalon apologized after.

Most notably, later that year, six ships, including the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, attempted to run the Israeli blockade in order to deliver humanitarian supplies to residents of the Gaza Strip. In response, Israeli marines boarded the ship and in the ensuing fight, nine activists were killed—eight Turkish, and one American of Turkish descent. Turkey demanded an apology; Israel refused.

The breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel, relations that have existed since 1949, will not help either country in the long run. Though Erdogan has in many ways become a hero for the Arab Street and a well-liked leader within his borders, his inflamed statements will hurt Turkey’s EU accession talks, particularly since Israel has increased ties with Cyprus, a country whose northern half is occupied by Turkey and is set to inherit the EU’s rotating presidency in 2012. Turkey and Cyprus have their own share of problems, given that Turkey occupies Cyprus’s northern half. As long as Turkey attacks Israel on the global stage, Israel and Cyprus, will likely grow closer due to their mutual respective rows with Turkey, and likely impede Turkey’s EU aspirations. If relations were to improve between Ankara and Jerusalem, however, Israel could have a chance at helping mediate and eliminate the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus, since Israel and Cyrpus have had strong bilateral relations since the 1990s. Solving the conflict between Turkey and Cyprus would clear one of Turkey’s major roadblocks to EU accession.

Still, Turkey is not alone in this problem. Israel’s continued stubbornness to resolve their relations with Ankara holds potent risks as well. Israel has damaged a relationship with one of the largest Muslim majority countries in the world, a country that at one point not only had decent relations with Israel, but countries like Syria, Lebanon and Iran. While Netanyahu has stated that he does not want Ankara to mediate any future negotiations between Israel and Syria, repairing the Turkish-Israeli relationship makes Turkey uniquely suited to mediate between Syria and Israel more than the United States. Though Israel has no influence on Syria domestically or internationally, Turkey does. Even if Assad is removed from power, Turkey, who like Israel shares a border with Syria, will still have influence on the Arab Republic, especially if the Sunni majority takes over Damascus. Additionally, Turkey would be ideal in relieving the tensions between Israel and Lebanon and even Israel and Iran.

I am not advocating who is right or who is wrong—I am just encouraging both sides to talk. Now is not the time of brinkmanship be it an increased Turkish naval presence in international waters or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatening to openly negotiate with the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK (The PKK is recognized by the United States as a foreign terror organization). Openly trying to destabilize the other country not only decreases respect for Turkey and Israel on the international stage, but it is also a waste of time and money for both. Talking and airing out grievances between one another leads to making peace. Making peace will erase the blemish on an otherwise successful relationship that has lasted over sixty years.

Jimmy Kimmel Re. New York Jets and Yom Kippur

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

To continue our post from last week:

‘Nuff said.

(HT: normblog)

New York Jets Accommodate Jews…Unlike the Red Sox!

New York JetsBy Marista Lane
According to the AP (via  NYT), the Jets have successfully changed the start of their game against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 27 from 4:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. so as not to interfere with Yom Kippur:

N.F.L. has moved the start time of the Jets’ game against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 27 to 1 p.m. from 4:15 after the team complained about having to play home games on consecutive Jewish holidays. The change was made a day after the Jets’ owner, Woody Johnson, sent a letter to Commissioner Roger Goodell suggesting the switch to allow fans to arrive home before sundown on Yom Kippur.

How considerate.

Break-fast Fantasy

Hi everybody. Hope you had an easy fast yesterday.

We’re curious about your break-fast (or breakfast, or break fast, however you want). What’d you have? Was it good? What’s the best Yom Kippur break-fast you’ve ever ate? We know there are some funny family traditions out there…put ’em in the comments section below.

I, for one, remember one of the first times I made it through the whole fast. I must have been about 10 or 11 years old. The first thing I had to break the fast—the very first thing to hit my naive, unsuspecting stomach—was a mini-shot of Canadian whiskey one of the old men had given me behind my parents’ back. I took a tiny sip and damn near heaved all over the food trays. My stomach felt like it was attacking itself. My sister jumped to the rescue, handed me a glass of orange juice that halted my coughing convulsions, and the old men pounded me on the back until I could breathe again.


So, what are some of your stories?

Photo by altemark.

Benjamin Schuman-Stoler