The Big Felafel

Dancing in the Streets

While it isn’t exactly dancing in the street, Israelis can be found walking, biking or just sitting in the middle of the road on Yom Kippur.

Who is a fan of Yom Kippur? I mean lets face it, fasting and praying isn’t what I call fun, yet since moving to Israel I actually look forward to this otherwise dull holiday. Most people will tell you that you should experience Israel during the high holidays where you are bound to have a moving religious experience. After all it is amazing to finally not just say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” but actually be in Jerusalem chanting the prayer.

Jerusalem is a very special city (understatement of the year), with an electric volt of religion and melting pot of every kind of Jew. Touring around the city center you are bound to bump into the new age punk kids, “arsim” (the trendy boys with tacky bleached hair, too-tight pants and their little sisters pink t-shirt) and their girlfriends “frechas” (you can spot them in Euro trash outfits normally the color white).

On the main promenade, Ben Yehuda Street, you will find your mix of tourists, Israelis, musicians and street performers as well as the homeless, drug addicts and society’s other bottom-of-the-rung types.

With a five minute walk to Strauss St., you are suddenly dressed inappropriately as you step into the outskirts of Mea Shearim, a very Haredi neighborhood of Jerusalem. There you will find the donut-hat wearing men, better known as Haredis in Streimels wearing a matching robe. Of course you will also find a variety of religious Jews wearing different religious garb according to their customs.

Every kind of Jew is right here in Jerusalem!

But I am already getting off topic just telling you about the rainbow of Jews in Jerusalem, when really I want to discuss Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a holy day; I mean it is the holy day. I don’t think I have ever met a Jew that didn’t fast on Yom Kippur. But in Israel there is more than just fasting, praying, sleeping and dreaming about what you are going to eat for break-fast. Here in Israel you get to play in the streets!

As soon as the sun goes down religious Jews stuffed with their last meal make their way to synagogue. Jumping out of their houses too are the children who wait for Yom Kippur with that same excited anticipation as American Christians have on Christmas morning- I think anyway, since I am not Christian so I am just assuming that the excitement is equal.

The kids go crazy in the streets. They are on bikes, roller blades, scooters and skateboards. And after five minutes they are on the floor crying, hollering and checking out their skinned knees after their first fall of the night. The older, cooler kids come out in groups hovering in the center of the streets. My favorite group of hoverers was a gang of teenage girls who sat in the middle of the usually busy intersection of Emek Refaim and Pierre Koenning. There under the flashing yellow lights the girls gossiped and enjoyed the freedom that only Yom Kippur brings.

That’s right, on Yom Kippur a hush falls over not just the crowd, the whole city of Jerusalem. There are no cars (just some random police cars – but that doesn’t count), motorcycles or any of the annoying traffic sounds that I generally hear from my bedroom window.

Although Yom Kippur gets rid of the daily bombardment of street noise it brings with it the strollers and the above mentioned kids on wheels. So while you think I would have a quiet night of sleep it is actually anything but. These kids don’t just play for an hour; they are literally out there soaking up the car free roads for the full holiday.

Year after year I have enjoyed, and by enjoyed I mean been annoyed by: crying kids, loud teenagers, parents yelling and the walkers with their pitter-patter throughout the night.

Now I might sound a little bitter, but the truth is I love this time of year and the excitement a normally mundane holiday with it brings. Even though I know I will be tired and really thirsty and crave chocolate even more than a normal day, I can’t wait for Yom Kippur- it’s fun.

This year I walked up and down Emek relishing in the people-saturated streets. I refused to walk on the sidewalk and became part of the crowd of other refusers. I walked my dog among the many dog walkers. I scanned the streets for crazy-bikers and fallen children that needed help taking the bike off of them. And I stood in the middle of the road having a conversation about nothing because I could.

So yes, you should come to Israel for the high holidays because it is an authentic religious experience. You should also come for Yom Kippur so you can walk the streets and join the hundreds of every-kind-of-Jew finally not yelling at each other about “cutting me off,” “watching the road,” or honking because the red light is about to turn green so move already! We find something else to yell about and as we take part in the holy holiday of Yom Kippur- together.


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  1. * joan prager says:

    my computer would not allow your english book blog. i would like that list. how/

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 8 months ago
  2. * Rebecca says:

    The list is on the right sidebar under “Essential Tips”, currently third from the bottom. Alternatively,

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 8 months ago
  3. * rebecca leibowitz says:

    why do they call it a fast when it goes so slowly?

    | Reply Posted 15 years, 8 months ago

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