The day Emek Refaim was empty

The day Emek Refaim was

german colony 88 (photo credit: )
german colony 88
(photo credit: )
After Kol Nidre services, Emek Refaim, one of Jerusalem's busiest streets, famous for its trendy cafes in the upscale "German Colony," HaMoshava, was empty. Instead of cars, the street was packed along its entire length with many hundreds, perhaps a thousand people. Most were coming from synagogue services, but others, dressed in off-the-shoulder dresses and funky outfits were obviously just enjoying the walk. A few kids on bicycles and scooters wove daringly through the crowds. English, Russian, French, and, of course, Hebrew filled the night air as people strolled slowly home. An Ethiopian family stood on the sidewalk watching the vibrant holiday scene. This is Israel, Kibbutz Galiyot, the "ingathering of the Jewish people," predicted by our Prophets thousands of years ago; it's a continuous process that has defined the Jewish people and Jewish history. The following afternoon, during the customary break in services, the street was still devoid of cars; instead, scores of bicycles and scooters swooshed by, some whirling like acrobats. Secular Israelis call Yom Kippur "Bicycle Day." Main streets in other cities, even prominently secular Tel Aviv and Haifa also turn into pedestrian and bicycle pathways. Although no law governs what can and can't be done on this day, secular Israelis observe Yom Kippur in their own way. Most fast and apparently most don't drive, or at least they avoid inner city streets, not wishing to offend others. Restaurants, businesses and places of entertainment are, of course, closed. It's family day. And it's specifically Israeli, something we share no matter who we are. It is what Israel is all about as a country and as a nation. We're family. Yom Kippur also echoes tragic memories of Israel's most deadly war, in 1973, when Egypt and Syria, backed by the Soviet Union, launched a devastating surprise attack which almost succeeded, and cost thousands of Israeli lives. Despite failed leaders, rampant corruption, and continuing terrorism, Israelis search for ways to heal. Life goes on, and this street, on this day is why: For all of our differences, we are one people and we have come home. This most sacred day of all is imbedded in every Jew, an intuition of holiness that binds us together and makes us whole. For 24 hours, on Yom Kippur, we sense that we are in this together - no matter who are, what we believe, or where we live. On this slow fast day sinat hinam (baseless hatred) is put aside. Yom Kippur changes our lives. Sharing this day as a collective, national experience, rooted in tradition and history is the essence of what it means to be an Israeli Jew and that we will prevail. That's something to celebrate throughout the year. A final blast of the shofar, the sound of Freedom and Redemption, and we shout: "Next year in Jerusalem!" And this year, too. Forever, God willing. We are home and in our homeland. As soon as the holiday is over traffic clogs the streets. Waiters wipe tables, coffee machines perk, customers wait for snacks and pizza deliveries begin loading up motor scooters. We're back in businessSˇuntil next Yom Kippur. The author is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.