All I can say is whoa. If you can get yourself to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur you should TOTALLY do it. It was really an incredible experience, both on a religious level but also on a sociological level. I will explain, but first I must start at the beginning...
So the night before Yom Kippur started I went out with most of my classmates. Was it the smartest thing to do before YK? Probably not, but it was fun, and hey you need to have something to atone for on yom kippur (because obviously I'd been perfect up til then haha). We went to this bar in the old city and it was super fun. BUT probably the most cool thing was after we left and being in the old city the night before yom kipur.
Let me tell you, it was crazy!! At like 1-2am it was packed. There were swarms of people everywhere. My one regret is that I didn't make it all the way to the kotel to see the scene there, but I heard that it was crazy crowded. Even where I was it was crowded and there were lots of chickens. Yes, live chickens...
Why? Well there is this custom called capparot where before yom kippur you put all your sins into a chicken and swing it around your head, and then they kill the chicken and give the meat to poor people. It's pretty weird, and it's not all that common (it's mostly the ultra orthodox who do it). There is also a custom that is more common which is to donate money instead, about the amount equivalent to a chicken and then wave that around your head. A little more pro animal rights.
So when I was walking back from the bar with a friend we stopped by some guys who had two chickens and if you paid them money they would do capparot for you. I figured why not, it was an experience...The guys who did it for me didn't swing the chicked by its legs or anything, they just held the chicken and waved it in a circle 3 times.
I was talking to the guy (in Hebrew too), and I asked him why we used a chicken. He told me we use it because it's kosher. When I asked him why we can't use another kosher animal he said something like: can you imagine swinging a sheep around in the air. funny image. For some reason (heh), I thought the chickens were super cute, so the guy let me pet them. It was the best. I contemplated vegetarianism for a few seconds, but yeah it was a fleeting thought.
So a little background about my relationship with yom kipur. In high school I had this teacher at a hebrew hs program I went to who was very Orthodox. In one of our classes we spoke about yom kippur and he freaked me out. He spoke about how bad it was to eat on the holiday, etc, and it really sunk in (almost in an irrational way). So anyways after that every year around yom kippur I would start to have nightmares/anxiety dreams about accidentally eating, or not getting to eat before the fast starts and then being miserable, etc.
So yeah basically a week before yom kippur I usually start freaking out, BUT that didn't happen this year, so that was really exciting. At the end of the day, if you eat something by accident it is OK, and if you think you are going to die or be sick or whatever it is ok to eat.
Anyways, the first night I went to services at kedem again (I went there for rosh hashana also). They were good services, but I would have to say the highlight of my night came after services walking around emek refaim (a street with lots of stores and restaurants on it, a pretty hip place). SO on Yom kippur it is illegal to drive in jerusalem. So there were absolutely no cars in the streets. NONE starting last night around 7 or so until 6 or 7pm today.
So what happens is that EVERYONE is out and about after services. It's "the thing to do" to go wander around emek after services are over. I think I saw everyone I ever knew there. But seriously I ran into people who I hadn't seen in YEARS, people who I knew from nfty stuff, from jts, from random places, it was the best.
Since there are no cars lots of kids get out their bikes/scooters/roller blades and go around riding them. It was quite a picture, you should def check it out if you can!
So after spending a good deal of time on emek I walked back home, which was pretty fun because I could walk in the middle of all the busy streets. I live right next to a really busy intersection so it was super cool to just be able to stand in the middle of it all. There was a large group of kids (well I think it was just kids on Nativ) standing in the intersection singing songs.
I decided to take a walk around j'lem, so I went to all the busy streets and just walked in the middle. It was such a trip. It really helped set the mood for the holiday. It was serious and contemplative, but at the same time there was some joy and hope. I don't think yom kipur should just be all about being sad and serious, yes we are asking for repenence but we are also asking to be written and sealed in the book of life, and I mean if I were God I would want to seal happy people in that book...
The next day I got up and went back to Kedem for services. I was noticing a lot today how powerful some of the Yom Kippur liturgy is. I don't really have the energy to fully explain it now, but I urge you to take a look in the machzor and read the english. Some interesting parts are during the musaf service when we do seder avodah where we read through the sacrifice. So much detail went into it. There are a lot of piyutim in there that have great imagery about how powerless we are.
Also I really like the part in the concluding service where we say the 13 attributes of God a bunch of times. So basically these 13 attributes come from Moses in the Torah. At one point (exodus 34) God passes before Moses (this is all in the liturgy) and Moses proclaims these 13 attributes (which basically say that God is merciful and compassionate and forgiving, I'm not really doing it justice, but if you are curious look it up or ask me). When I say this I get this great mental image in my mind of Moses (because I have NO idea what God would look like). So Moses just saw the most amazing/awe-inspiring thing EVER, and I see him here as spontaneously erupting into the praise because he is just so struck with amazement, but also love and gratitude.
Ok enough liturgy talk. Sorry. I'm gonna be a rabbi though, so I can't help it :-)
Yeah so I was in services all day except for 2 hours when I napped at a friends. She saved me from having to walk the 25 mins back to my apartment to nap (shout out!).
I broke my fast at a friends house. It was actually people I knew from my days in nfty, but they were the advisors haha. The thing is, it that when you are in middle school/high school 6 or 7 years is a HUGE age difference, but now, not so much. The break fast was lovely and there was lots of delicious food, and fun people.
And now I am here, whoa. I just wanted to share my yom kippur experience. I would have to say it was one of the best, if not the best yom kippur I've had yet. It was spiritual and all that, but it was also pleasant; the fast was not too bad, and I had a lot of nice social interactions throughout the day. Also I forgot to mention, the weather was BEAUTIFUL. It was absolutely magnificent. Definitely the nicest day of weather I have experienced yet while being here. It was probably in the 70s and there was this lovely breeze. It really added to the whole yom kippur experience.
I hope sometime in the (not too distant) future I can return to Israel for yom kippur.
sending good vibes your way...