Yom Kippur in Yerushalayim
Jerusalem seemed like the right place to be on Yom Kippur in the new year 5770.
Though the holiday did not begin until Sunday evening, Ben decided to make a long weekend of it and arrive before candle lighting on Friday night. He thought, what was more natural than being in the Holy Land’s holiest city on the holiest day of the year?
Ben packed his two best suits, his finest white shirts, and his most expensive tallit, with ornamental silver around the neck. He steered his car southwest, away from his home in Hayim Hadash in the majestic hills of Judea-Samaria, along the Road of the Patriarchs, the road Abraham traveled 4,000 years ago. Ben was going to treat himself well and check into The David Citadel Hotel, HaMalon Mitzudat Daveed, one of the finest hotels in the Holy Land, and only a short walk to the Kotel, the western wall of the Temple, the holiest place in the holiest city. According to the Bible, this was where God chose His dwelling place on earth, preferring the wise son, Solomon, as his builder, over his warrior father, David, who had too much blood on his hands.
Ben parked in underground garage of the hotel, and took his bag out of the trunk. He rode the elevator up to the lobby, then walked to the kaballah, the front desk. After signing forms and showing his credit card to the polite, well-dressed Arab clerk, who would be working on Shabbat, Ben took his own bag up to the tenth floor, refusing help from the concierge.
Ben unpacked quickly and hung up his suits and shirts before they wrinkled. He took a shower, put on his best suit, and then rode the “shabbat elevator” down to street level. The lobby was polished marble at the David Citadel, which created a clean, luxurious atmosphere. Ben exited through the ten foot high brass doors at the front of the hotel, not waiting for the doorman to open them for him.
He crossed the street, and walked through a new shopping district a quarter of a mile long, constructed of Jerusalem stone. It was lined on both sides with exclusive name-brand shops, closed now for Shabbat, ending with steps that rose to the Jaffa Gate.
The Jaffa Gate stood in stark contrast to the opulence Ben just experienced. It had old buildings in disrepair, inhabited by poor Arab shopkeepers and hustling Arab cabdrivers waiting for fares. Ben studied them as he walked by, like a writer noting colors and shapes, but not making eye contact. According to Jewish tradition, the Messiah, the Moshiach, who descended from King David, was supposed to enter Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate. If he does, thought Ben, I wonder what he will think of our Arab cousins, the descendents of Ishmael, who are working on Friday night and Saturday, desecrating the Sabbath in the Holy Land’s holiest city.
Ben continued his fast paced walk, noting the Israeli soldiers with their assault rifles dispersed among the thousands of people coming and going to the Old City, Ir Atikah. When he arrived at St. James Street, Ben turned left, onto narrow cobblestone streets. The stones were worn smooth by millions of footsteps over centuries. Some parts were slippery after shopkeepers pushed the dirty water from mopping their floors out to the street.
When Ben arrived at the southern entrance to the Kotel, he walked down a long stairway that led to a Police checkpoint and a metal detector.
“Ain neshek,” he informed the heavy set female guard as he walked through. He wasn’t carrying a weapon.
Ben approached the Kotel with a sense of awe. There was something mystical how the huge stones that were impossibly heavy were laid on top of one another to create a wall almost a hundred feet high, thousands of years ago, when lifting and moving was done by horses and beasts of burden, using ropes and pulleys, and not diesel powered cranes with steel wires.
There were two praying areas outside, the men’s and the women’s, separated by a metal partition, a mehetzah. The men’s side, on the left, was larger and more crowded because the obligation to pray, by tradition, was placed upon Jewish men. Jewish women had more important things to do, like taking care of a home and family.
There was a party atmosphere on the men’s side at the Kotel, even with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, only two days away. Right at the wall, near the mehetzah, was a group called the Carlebach Minyan, composed of forty-somethings and younger, many of whom looked and dressed like hippies with long hair, flowing robes, and sandals. The Carlebach Minyan sang and danced to the Friday night prayer service using the melodies of Shlomo Carlebach, a famous Jewish spiritual musician.
Ben joined in during the singing of the prayer, L’Cha Dodee. He sang with gusto, until he began to feel out-of-place. Hippies were the movers and shakers of the 1960’s, and no one in Carlebach group was old enough to have been around then. Ben grew up with that rebellious group, who swore to change the world and stop the wars. Their tools of change were free love, mind-expanding drugs, and music. Over the next four decades, those tools evolved into S.T.D.’s – sexually transmitted diseases, hyper-addictive drugs – crack cocaine and meth, and rap music – a poetry sung to African rhythms, created by angry young urban black men and listened to by suburban young white men with little to be angry about.
Ben wandered over to a group of soldiers, fifty of them standing in a circle, their M-16’s slung over their backs. They were singing Henay Matov Oomanayim, How Good and Pleasant, their arms on each other’s shoulders. Ben broke into the circle, put his arms on the soldiers on each side of him, and sang along. He felt a strong connection to a brotherhood that could be under deadly fire at any time, like he was at Hayim Hadash.
After an hour, Ben left the Kotel, not satisfied with his prayers, but still feeling the special energy that brought him to Yerushalayim.
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