A Local View on Yom Kippur

The writer is Lior, a local Israeli and Travel Expert on Travel Israel by Travelkosh.

On the eve of the 8th of August began Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. It involves a 25-hour fast, during which many people also do not touch any electronical devices (phones, computers, televisions, etc.) and do not use transportation. The more religious go to the synagogue and spend their 25-hours in prayers, while the less religious stay at home with their families, talk, play board games or go out to the streets for a walk or a bicycle ride.

What is the meaning of Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people besides Shabbat. It is also known as the Day of Atonement. According to the tradition, there are three books in which God inscribes the names of people at the end of each year – the Book of Life for the righteous, the Book of Death for the sinners and a third book for those who are not righteous and not sinners. On Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish year, which took place this year on the 29th of September, it is believed that God inscribes your name in one of the books. Then, you have a week until Yom Kippur to amend your behavior and seek forgiveness for wrong things you have done during the year. On Yom Kippur God seals your fate for the coming year. This is why many pray towards Yom Kippur, wishing that God will seal them a good fate for the upcoming year.

A kid blowing the shofar - a way to open the soul
A kid blowing the shofar – a way to open the soul

My Yom Kippur

I am not a religious Jew, but I observe the major traditions. I began fasting on Yom Kippur during my army service. Beforehand, I did not find anything meaningful in fasting, although some people begin fasting on Kippur in a very early age. For me, Yom Kippur is the time to disconnect from things you “cannot live without”, like the phone, the computer, food and water. Well, food and water you really cannot live without, but 25-hours probably won’t kill you. It is a time to connect to myself, my body, my soul and to connect to the people around me – my family.

Yom Kippur begins at a certain hour. Before that hour, everyone is gushing and rushing. The house needs to be clean, the food needs to be ready for the big feast before the fast, and everyone needs to take a shower. On Yom Kippur we do not clean or wash ourselves. And we also need to eat the feast before that certain hour.

About 45 minutes before the fast begins, we sit down and eat the large feast, which is called in Hebrew “Seuda Mafseket”. This is the last feast before we stop eating and begin the 25-hour fast. We usually eat a chicken and vegetable soup, potatoes, rice and kidney beans, and of course, we drink a lot of water throughout the entire day and also during the feast. Then my mother lights the Yom Kippur candles and blesses each of the children for good health, prosperity, success and good deeds.

This Yom Kippur I spent some time reading books, especially those connected to Jewish traditions and prayers, and spent time playing different board games with my family. The voice of kids riding their bikes and talking in the street were so loud and powerful, that you could think someone in the house played a recording of laughing children. On other days, you don’t hear anything from outside the house, maybe some cars driving along the road. On Yom Kippur there are no cars in the streets.

In the first few hours you still think about water. But when you get used to the thought that you cannot drink for the next few hours, the thoughts go to other places. Usually, people tell other people “have an easy fast” before Yom Kippur, because it could get tough, especially if you did not get yourself ready for it by drinking lots of water and eating nutritious foods. I had an easy fast, barely thought of water or food, had no headaches or sore throat.  

The hardest hour of the fast is usually the last one. You start thinking about the tea and cake you are going to eat after it ends, and start looking desperately at the watch, again and again. When the hour comes to break the fast, we sit around the table, drink tea as slowly as possible and take a few bites from a sweet cake. This is how we let our bodies come back to their usual state of eating and drinking. Slowly. About 20 minutes afterwards, we eat the feast marking the end of the fast. We cannot eat much, because we do not want to put burden on our bodies, but we eat enough to refuel ourselves.

Afterwards, my family hurried back to their phones, and I took another hour of disconnection.

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