An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man holds a chicken during the Kaparot ritual, in which it is believed that one transfers one’s sins from the past year into the chicken, in the Ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, Israel, on, Sept. 25, 2012. The ritual is performed before the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year which started at sundown Tuesday.
This is my first Yom Kippur here in Jerusalem; I just moved to Israel last winter. It feels special to be here for this holiest of Jewish days.
Last night, Tuesday evening, just after sundown, my husband and I walked down to Emek Refaim, the main street of the German Colony neighborhood of west Jerusalem, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people – mostly families — were out walking, many home from services at synagogue.
Kids pedaled bicycles and rode scooters and skateboards while adults ambled straight down the middle of the deserted streets. My husband and I — just to say we did — walked down the bus lane of Hebron Road, the big, busy street usually jammed with lumbering buses behind our west Jerusalem apartment. The only cars on the streets – and there were very few of those – were police or emergency vehicles.
Nobody talked on cellphones (you’re not supposed to) or ate or drank anything while they walked, since Yom Kippur means a 25-hour fast. We saw nobody smoking. No stores were open, not even our usual 24-hour market that faithfully stays open on Shabbat each week. Nothing at all. No cars at all. Nobody eating, drinking, smoking, or talking on their cellphones (or even looking at them). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.
And then today, the immense quiet.
My husband and I woke – I’m not sure why – to not a sound outside. The only television programming that’s on is the foreign cable news channels. No Israeli television is broadcasting anything, even our satellite broadcaster. As the day wears on, all we can hear are the sounds of the neighborhood kids playing outside.
“I go out on my balcony and just listen to the silence,” says an American friend of mine who’s lived here for 20 years. She says Jerusalem is the most special place to be in Israel on Yom Kippur – just for the sheer silence of it.
Anyone who owns a home here seems to be here for this High Holiday period, which began with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The downstairs flat in our apartment building, owned by people who live abroad like many Jerusalem apartments, has been abuzz with people for two weeks. A cheery tablecloth adorns the usually-neglected outside table with a big white garden umbrella permanently open above it. If you live abroad and own a home here, this is when you visit. If you’re a secular Jew, this is the holiday you celebrate.
Today, everyone seems to be obeying the no-driving rule and walking to synagogue. Some people park their cars near their synagogues, picking them up today after sundown, when Yom Kippur ends with a break-fast dinner (often breakfast food, like lox and bagels and smoked salmon), often shared with family and friends.
We’ll go for a long walk again later, I’m sure. Not much else to do today. The clocks have already gone back here, in time for Yom Kippur, so it’ll get dark early. But this afternoon promises to be both beautiful – and quiet — here in Jerusalem.
Daniela Deane, a former Washington Post reporter, is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem.
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