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At the Cost of Custom

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Standard European. Chabad. Joint (Kibbutz HaDati). Sephard with additions. Sephardic. Conservative. Five Machzorim, one Selihot book.

This is the story of my Yom Kippur. Every year a group called Katif Yisraeli sends students and other post army and national service youngsters to pick fruit, and in the case of many of the groups in the Arava, sort it. The work is exhausting, sometimes inane, and very often the most fulfilling thing someone can do in their summer months. I had the privilege of being in a group on Moshav Ein Hatzeva last summer, and people can tell you that I haven’t shut up about it since. On that Moshav, I found a community, a family, and some of the best people I’ve ever met. People with whom I didn’t have much in common before, and with whom I had a million inside jokes and shared experiences at summer’s end. Together we shared the greatest Holiday season I’ve ever experienced; we had Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur together, and many of us had Sukkot as well. We celebrated Shabbatot together, each in their way. We all woke up hungover on some mornings, we all got dehydrated planting onions. But we all worked hard and in an honest manner, and that was all that mattered. We forgot what we were all from different forms of observance, and from different Jewish communities, and different sides of the political spectrum. We were a group of Israeli folks, and that was what mattered to us.

This year, six days before Yom Kippur I got a call telling me that Katif Yisraeli was getting a number of the groups in the Arava together for the fast, and that I should come to be Hazzan. I have my nephew’s Brit, I told them, but the manager insisted. If you don’t come, he told me, we won’t have a Kippur. With an offer like that, you don’t say no. I drove from the Brit in Binyamina to Han Gamaliah, four hours drive. And much like the year before, Yom Kippur was magical. From the first notes of Kol Nidrei to the last notes of Neilah, there was something so unique about the experience. There was no dress code. Most of the congregants did not wear shoes; many wore shorts; some men opted out of kippot. Some said all the prayers, some joined for one or two, some simply sat and took in the words of the different readings. Our service was unique; the rites were mixed such that Selihot were said in the Sephardic custom at nights (Kol Nidrei and Neilah) and in the Ashkenazi during the morning and afternoon. The participants juggled two Machzorim a piece, one from Chabad and one from the religious council in Eilat. A woman led U’Netaneh Tokef and left the room without a dry eye.

At prayers’ end, the crowd gathered for Havdala, the religious, the irreligious, and the once religious together. They all yelled the responses for the many blessings given in the last kaddish and in the verses of Havdala, with a dozen expressions inserted and improvised for the “Hatzlihenu!” (Make us successful!) prayer, for financial, educational, romantic and political success, and while both of these customs are Sephardic, the Ashkenazim in the room knew the call and response as well. As a token of appreciation, the verse “Noah found favor in the eyes of God” was called and the traditional response was neglected for a round of whooping.

What is amazing about this experience, out of which I came in an Earth-shaking high, was that the whole holiday was an Israeli experience to the greatest degree, without a single modicum of judgement. No one looked at another’s dress, or whether their pocket had a machzor or a cellphone in it. In the purest sense, it was what religious services are meant to be, especially on........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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