Think About It: A break for Yom Kippur

The most curious sight I observed the following morning was a group of around a dozen youngsters on bicycles at the crossroads of Gaza-Chernichovsky.

People riding their bikes in Jerusalem during Yom Kippur (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
People riding their bikes in Jerusalem during Yom Kippur
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
For me personally, as a secular, Yom Kippur is a day to be detached from everyday personal and political concerns, and to reflect on things that I do not usually give too much thought to.
Since the weather on Yom Kippur was fair, I took the opportunity to take some long strolls along the main roads in the area where I live – the surroundings of Nayot in Jerusalem.
In most directions one can take from my home, one soon comes across the works on the Light Rail (why do I keep thinking of it as a tram?), and the long trail of bicycle and pedestrian paths that are to connect the Malha Railway Station with the Central Bus Station and the stadium near the University at Givat Ram.
Two facts amaze me. The first is that as a driver, I am largely oblivious to these works, since somehow the executors of the work manage to build temporary or permanent bypasses, so that as long as you keeps your eyes on the road, you can reach your destination without seeing what is going on around. The second is that there is a total absence of maps (as opposed to charts) that show exactly where the tracks and paths will run.
I discovered the same absence of maps when, several weeks ago, I was trying to figure out which roads are blocked at the entrance to Jerusalem, as a result of the major construction works going on there that are to last for three years. In this case, half a dozen phone calls to the municipality, police, the roads authorities, etc., didn’t come up with any answers (they just kept referring me to each other).
There are detailed verbal descriptions one can find on the Internet, which include all the names of our past national leaders who have roads named after them – but who on earth can associate all these names with specific roads? In fact, despite all the hullabaloo, very few roads are actually blocked.
One new road for which a person can find a proper map is road No. 16, which will connect highway No. 1 near Motza, by means of several tunnels, to Givat Mordechai, which is just around the corner from where I live. They say it will open in 2023.
A walk through the streets of Rehavia – yesteryear’s hotbed for left-wing intellectuals and the occasional right-wing political leader – reveals that a growing number of its old homes, some designed by known architects, have been replaced by apartment buildings of some non-descript architecture, that are usually much too large for the plot of land on which they are constructed, and destroy the sense of suburban quaintness that used to typify this neighborhood.
I am not sure what is more of an eye sore: these pieces of expensive real estate, or No. 35 Gaza Street – a rather neglected looking building, constructed (in the 1950s?) without the usual Jerusalem stone exterior, in which our prime minister owns a penthouse that has a long row of aluminum windows along the front – which look completely out of character – and a strange, two-meter-tall metal funnel sticking out of the southern exterior wall.
BUT CONSTRUCTION sites and buildings are not the only thing one notices while roaming the carless streets on Yom Kippur. As soon as dark falls in my secular neighborhood, dozens of children emerge from their homes with their bikes and scooters, frequently accompanied by their parents, who stand together in groups. I remember many of these parents as children, when my own children were still in kindergarten and school, and grew up in the same neighborhood.
It is a very relaxing sight, though I admit that seeing the children riding around at great speed does give rise to some anxiety, since the occasional car does come rushing by – usually ambulances on their way to and from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which is close by, or Hadassah-University Medical Center that is in the same direction, but further on.
On my nightly walk, I reached the Pat crossroads, where most of the other passersby were religious families walking back home from synagogue, and families of Ethiopian and Russian origin. Many of the religious men – both haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and National-Religious – were wearing kittels (white robes), which rather surprised me, since I associate kittels primarily with bridegrooms and with those running the Passover Seder. A religious friend told me that there are ultra-religious men who are buried in their kittels.
One of the more amusing sights I saw was a cute, chubby Ethiopian three-year-old, who ran by, with the determination of a marathon runner. I couldn’t figure out to where the child was running, until I noticed his family more than 100 meters ahead. The first thought that crossed my mind was the title of the autobiography written by former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, Long-Distance Runner. Barkat has his mind set on the premiership after Netanyahu. How far will this Ethiopian toddler get?
However, the most curious sight I observed the following morning was a group of around a dozen youngsters on bicycles at the crossroads of Gaza-Chernichovsky, who appeared to be of Central Asian origin (possibly Nepal) by their looks. I wondered whether they are the children of foreign workers, since they looked much too young to be workers themselves but, of course, I might have been way off course in my guess. I felt like asking them where they come from, and how they feel riding their bicycles on an empty street in the middle of Jerusalem on Yom Kippur – but they just passed by at great speed, chuckling.
After Yom Kippur was over, I thought of the two children who had been killed while riding their bikes – a Jewish child killed by a reckless Arab car driver from Lod, and an Arab child from Ramle killed by a reckless Jewish motorbike rider. What a strange coincidence.
Soon we were bombarded by news about President Donald Trump’s betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies, whom he accused of not having been at the side of the United States during the landing at Normandy, and about the Turkish intrusion into northern Syria resulting (for the time being) in 200,000 new Kurdish refugees escaping for their lives, while being left wondering how all this affects us.
Then we read about the meeting of the Likud Central Committee, attended by only some 300 members (out of 3,700), who provided Netanyahu with yet another superfluous vote of allegiance. Now back to guessing whether some sort of national unity government will be established after all, or whether we must start preparing for a third round of elections.