Grapevine: A dignified Yom Kippur?

The prime minister and president's presence at the Hazvi Yisrael Congregation's service caused enormous inconveniences.

The Great Synagogue (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Ariel Horowitz )
The Great Synagogue
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Ariel Horowitz )
■  Ordinarily, any organization or institution is pleased to have a visit from the president or the prime minister. If they get a visit from both, it’s almost like winning the lottery.
However, not all the congregants at Jerusalem’s Hazvi Yisrael Congregation in Talbiyeh were thrilled to have the two highest-ranking people in the country in their midst on Kol Nidre night. It’s not the first time that the two have turned up at this synagogue within easy walking distance of their respective residences. Inasmuch as it’s a source of great pride to the congregation that both Shimon Peres and Binyamin Netanyahu should care to go there for Kol Nidre, their presence caused enormous inconvenience resulting from strict security needs.
Last week the congregation’s president David Zwebner sent out an email explaining that due to security requirements, everyone was urged to come early so they could be in their seats by 5 p.m. for the commencement of services. That meant that everyone attending services at Hazvi Yisrael had to eat earlier than planned and to light their candles sooner than the official time for candle lighting so that they could go through the security check before services began.
■ Previous presidents, with the notable exception of Moshe Katsav, who regularly attended Shabbat and holiday services at his local synagogue in Kiryat Malachi, usually went to the Great Synagogue for the High Holy Days. So did Ehud Olmert, both as prime minister and mayor of Jerusalem. Peres has so far remained aloof from the Great Synagogue. For that matter, he has yet to join regular worshipers at the synagogue in his back garden. The regular congregants have invited him on several occasions, but so far the president is holding his direct negotiations with the Almighty in other venues.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, prefers to be in Jerusalem for at least part if not all of the High Holy Day period. During his Kol Nidre night sermon, Lau, who is greatly admired by Great Synagogue congregants, noted that Kol Nidre night is a great occasion for Jewish unity, when even the most nonobservant of Jews feels the need to be in the synagogue with fellow Jews at a time of reckoning and introspection. Lau said that on Kol Nidre night there were 600 synagogues operating in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa environs.
■ Dignitaries among the Yom Kippur worshipers at the Great Synagogue included Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch, who was there with her husband on Friday night and Saturday; British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who came on Saturday; and Sara Netanyahu and her sons Yair and Avner came for the Ne’ila prayers towards the conclusion of Saturday services.
Had they come in the afternoon they could have enjoyed the rousing rendition by Cantor Chaim Adler and the synagogue choir of the Yigal Calek version of “Mareh Kohen,” which really stirs the spirit.
Ever-energetic choirmaster Eli Jaffe skipped down the stairs from the choir stand to lead the congregation in a merry dance to the tune.
Some of the choir members followed him. Of course, the women in the gallery could not join in, but they clapped enthusiastically in time to the melody. Considering that Jaffe had been on his feet since early morning without respite or nourishment, his zest was positively amazing, not to mention contagious.
The dance was followed by an equally lively rendition of Kaddish, with Jaffe encouraging everyone in the congregation to clap along. It was as close to a mood of Jewish evangelism as one could get.
■ What has become a tradition on Kol Nidre night is the post-service sing-along by American youngsters who are in Israel on various programs run by Young Judea and the Conservative and Reform movements. As has been the case in recent years, dozens of them sat on the ground at the Agron/Keren Hayesod intersection, lustily singing liturgical songs. People coming from services from four directions stood around them and joined in the singing, bridging not only generation gap but also those between different streams of Judaism.
A little more unity of this kind could go a long way.
■ One last word related to the Great Synagogue. On Monday, October 17, in conjunction with B’Sheva and the Young Israel Movement, it will present The Jerusalem Conference for English Speakers with several thought-provoking topics slated for discussion.
These include The Jerusalem- Washington Axis; Relations between the Diaspora Communities and Those Who Dwell in Zion; and The Fires Raging in the Middle East.