Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Participant Perspectives: Jerusalem and Yom Kippur

At the very peak of the High Holy Day season, the Tikkun Olam group went on their first day tour of the year, to Jerusalem.  One day before Yom Kippur, the city is overflowing with visitors, who join with residents in attending synagogue from early in the morning until late at night and making their way to the Western Wall during the 10 days of "slichot" between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  

Natanya, a participant in the Social Action Track from Chicago, tells about the group's tour where they learned about the complexity and intensity that define Jerusalem, and also about the unique experience of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, when the bustling metropolis becomes a ghost town.

Hi All! This week has been very interesting and I cannot wait to write about it.
On Monday, our program took us on a full day trip to Jerusalem. The theme of the day was Pluralism - in this context referring to the diversity of religious beliefs systems coexisting in one setting. There are three very distinct groups that live in three separate areas of Jerusalem, and struggle to find their own place in this very special city… secular Israeli Jews, Haredi Jews (ultra-orthodox), and Arabs. 
Our first stop was to Shuk HaKaparot - this chicken market opens up only during the High Holidays. It follows an ancient practice where each person purchases their own chicken, says a prayer regarding the redemption of their sins, and then slaughters it in front of them, cooks it and feeds it to the poor. Even though it was a little frightening it was interesting to experience.
Our second stop was to meet with a city planner - they took us to the basement of their office where they had created a complete scale model of Jerusalem, including the building that have been commissioned to be built in the next few years. He spoke about his profession and how sensitive he has to be to everyones needs, to try to accomodate several “cities” within one municipality. 
The third stop was a meeting with a VERY important feminist figure in Reform Judaism, Anat Hoffman, head of the "Women of the Wall" organization and a major leader for social and religious justice in Israel. She tried to break down three “myths” about women living in Israel. 1. That having had one female prime minister (Golda Meir) means that Israeli politics are inclusive of women. In fact, only 26/120 Knesset (parliament) members are female, which is way behind most Scandinavian/European countries. 2. That the women pioneers who were the first in Israel stood alongside the men with shovels and pics and help built Israel. Research shows that, in fact, those historical pictures of Israel women with shovels were staged, and women fell into the stereotypical jobs that they continue to hold today.  3. That the female soldier in Israel has the same combat/front line opportunities as men. In reality, 85% of females in the army hold clerical jobs, and studies show that their self worth drops significantly during their time in the military, while it is the opposite for men. 
The fourth stop was a meeting with a Chasidic community leader in a very religious neighborhood. He explained the challenges of maintaining faith and tradition in an ever-changing  more modern society. Overall the Jerusalem trip was great!
THE DAY THE CITY TURNED OFF: Yesterday and today we are observing the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Known in English as the day of Atonement, Jews are encouraged to spend the day in self-reflection, including a 25 hour fast. In Israel, EVERYTHING SHUTS DOWN. Last night we were walking in the middle of the highway, because there are no cars on the road. It is not a law… its not illegal to drive on Yom Kippur… its just that everyone knows this is not the day to drive. It was the most incredible social phenomenon.
My friends and I went to services on the roof of an office building. It was hosted by Bina, one of the organizations responsible for the Tikkun Olam program. The services were great - lots of songs, poems and readings. Everything was in Hebrew, but the parts I didn’t understand I can still get the gist of because the spirit on the roof was so strong. When we came home it was 11 at night, but our neighborhood was still going strong. Every family had taken plastic lawn chairs and were sitting in circles in the middle of the street with their neighbors, just… talking. It was incredible. 
Next week is Sukkot and I am planning some fun trips to other cities so prepare yourself for more fun blog posts! I will leave you with a picture for now.
The view of Old Jaffa from Clara Beach