By Rob Goldberg
My wife Shira and I just returned from Israel where, for the first time, we rented a car and tooled around the country. We tasted freshly caught fish from the Mediterranean, absorbed magnificent sunsets, marveled at the lushness of the Upper Galilee, and experienced extraordinary hospitality from friends in Akko, Nahariya and Jerusalem. We also experienced the frenzy of religious Jews preparing for Sukkot near the Old City and the impatience of Israeli drivers. And yet, perhaps the most unique moment for us was Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.
We purposely wanted to spend the holiest day of the Jewish calendar in one of Israel’s most secular places. We had heard stories of barbecues on the beaches and that nobody drove their cars. We had heard that for most it was a “holiday” rather than a “Holy Day.”
We ate in the hotel restaurant – the only place open – before 5 pm and spent much of Yom Kippur evening just walking through quiet neighborhoods. It was hot and it was still.
In the morning, we peered out from our hotel veranda onto the beach and were surprised that bathers had already staked their claim. The sounds around us were unusual and captivating. Besides the rush of the waters, we could hear dogs barking and children playing because there were no sounds of cars honking, sirens blaring, or planes overhead. As we had been told, the streets were void of cars, buses, motorbikes and scooters.
Instead, they were teeming with bike-riders, runners and walkers. Many were wearing white. Some men had donned cheap white kippot. The city was bursting with life.
And not a soul was eating.
We had heard that 60% of Israelis fast on Yom Kippur. I had asked every Israeli I could if they were fasting and to a person they said they would be.
And there were no barbecues on the beach.
The day passed quietly and rather quickly. We took in the glorious sunset, had a piece of cake in the lobby of the hotel to break our fast, and headed out to find a place to eat. As we walked through the streets, mostly still void of traffic, we smelled food cooking and heard the sounds of people gathering for their break-fast meals. And for us, we hung out at Mitbach Yom (Day Kitchen) sitting at rickety tables in the Carmel Market with a handful of others. And a lot of cats. But our meal was delicious and a perfect way to end a Yom Kippur we will forever cherish.
Rob Goldberg is the CEO|Executive Director of the Buffalo Jewish Federation.