(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
• ON THE eve of Rosh Hashana and of Yom Kippur, it is customary among both Sephardim and Ashkenazim to visit the graves of loved ones. In Jerusalem, no matter how early a start one makes, as soon as one gets to Givat Shaul, the neighborhood whose main road leads to Har Hamenuhot Cemetery, there is total bedlam, as the long trails of cars move at less than a snail’s pace.
The driver of the No. 54 bus, the only bus whose destination is the main entrance to the cemetery, loses patience, and at Herzog Medical Center tells his passengers that this the last stop. It’s an arbitrary decision, because other bus drivers, we discover later, go just a little further, albeit not all the way.
During the long period in which the bus has been stationary, one of the passengers has been involved in a futile argument.
The passenger wants to alight. The driver refuses to open the door. Eventually, when he does open the door, at the Herzog Medical Center bus stop, the bus has moved barely two meters.
There are several elderly passengers, including a haredi man with a long white beard, who slowly make the uphill trek, and there’s still a lot of walking to do inside the cemetery. Not a single driver offers them a lift. The driver of one car notices that one of the passengers is carrying flowers and wants to know where she bought them, but doesn’t invite her into the car. Had she received an invitation, she might have parted with a bunch or two.
The traffic is much faster inside the cemetery because there is more than one road, but as mentioned they don’t stop for pedestrians, who have to keep moving out of the way. In the main cemetery car park a car with loud speakers intrudes on the sanctity of the occasion, reminding all that kaparot means giving to the poor.
The bus situation does not improve for would-be passengers returning home. There is quite a crowd at the bus stop outside Herzog Medical Center, and the numbers kept increasing because buses marked “not in service” keep passing by. There is less congestion among vehicles departing the cemetery than those going there, but even taxi drivers do not stop to ask if anyone prefers to take a taxi rather than wait for the bus. Finally a taxi with a passenger already inside slows down and one of the people waiting asks if the driver is going in the direction of the Central Bus Station. He is, and there is still room for an additional passenger, but the car speeds off before anyone can make a try for the empty seat.
Finally after a long wait, a private car slows down, and the gray-bearded driver offers to take anyone going to Ramot. Three women scramble into the car, enabling the driver to perform his pre-Yom Kippur mitzva.
• IN THE evening, at Kol Nidre services at the over-crowded Great Synagogue led by Cantor Tzvi Weiss, accompanied by the choir, conducted by the ever-energetic Elli Jaffe, who danced to some of the lively tunes, there seemed at certain times to be more gentiles than Jews in the women’s section. They were early birds who had arrived for the Christian Embassy’s annual Festival of Tabernacles.
More than half wore white in keeping with the Yom Kippur tradition, but some of the women were inappropriately dressed, and took seats that were intended for bona fide worshipers.
After the service, as happens every year, congregants from synagogues within a five-kilometer radius met at the Agron- Keren Hayesod intersection and spent time listening to a large group of American youngsters from the Conservative movement, who were sitting in a huge circle, cross-legged on the ground and singing Hebrew songs. This year the circle was larger than ever before – and so was the audience. Music is one of the most effective means of outreach and unity.
The audience, which was reluctant to go home, comprised at least three streams of Judaism, and they were together on Kol Nidre night singing and swaying with Conservative youth in Jerusalem.
There’s a message there somewhere.