Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur is a Chag Sameach - Very Sameach


First of all, a Happy 20th Birthday to my brother Sam today!  עמוֹ"ש

Erev Yom Kippur was one of those extremely busy days where there's a lot to cram in and most of it either doesn't get done or gets done within the last few moments.  Our morning consisted of two study sessions with Nativ staff to give us stuff to think about for Yom Kippur.  The first session I attended, with my madricha Cori, was about the Al Chet viduy.  We looked at different lines of the text from many angles, which I found very insightful and a good build off of what we had talked about in Reb Shmuel's conversation before.  Then we had time for personal reflection, which was good, I needed to prepare thoughts for my Al Chet sessions in the Amidah - it ended up benefiting me tremendously.  Afterwards I went to a session with my madrich Noah about t'shuva.  We looked at an interesting Mishna and Gemara about the power of t'shuva, t'shuva in relation to death, when t'shuva is appropriate.  Afterwards we had lunch, and then we went to the mikveh.  Oh the mikveh.  Unlike before Rosh Ha-Shannah, it was packed there.  I won't go into vulgar detail but it was sort of disgusting.  We talked about the difference between being ritually/spiritually cleansed (which I did feel) versus being physically clean.  Then I sort of chilled out, worked on a Yom Kippur overview, talked to people.  I made a silly mistake of eating chocolate chip cookies 20 minutes before the se'udah mafseket, so I was milchig and had to take chicken upstairs to eat later.  I showered, decked out in white (kippah, shirt, Israeli pants), and headed out.  I was prepping and working until the last second.

The plan was to go to the Leader Minyan for Kol Nidrei.  It's a liberal Orthodox minyan in Jerusalem that meets for (some) chagim and mevarkhim ha-hodesh.  It is known for its length of service, not due to lots of singing necessarily but because, for example, its p'sukei d'zimra can be 2 hours - "hayu chasidim rishonim shohim sha'ah achat lifnei she-mitpalelim" - I compare this to the first Chasidim, the Mishnah describes, who would prep an hour before davening.  They meditate a lot, or something like that.  Of course I could not experience this because when we got there, we found out that they meet at the Goldstein Youth Village on Yom Kippur, which would have been a far walk and sunset quickly approached.  So, Kedem was our closest and best option and we went.  I walked fast and got there in the middle of the first Kol Nidrei.  I got a seat in the front row, which had three seats - enough for me to sit next to my yeshiva buddy David Singer (Zeigler student) and Shira.  It was good davening next to them.  The service was fair - based on my two experiences there, it's a nice minyan but not what I'm looking for during the year.  Throughout Yom Kippur, though, my personal davening was very good - I don't think I have felt  and connected to my Amidah so much before.  My goal, as it should always be, was to direct my kavannah acutely and think about my relationship to the text as I went through.  That's why preparing the Al Chet material beforehand was extremely helpful.

If you didn't know, the streets are almost void of vehicles on Yom Kippur, with the exception of emergency vehicles and inconsiderate drivers who drove really fast.  One could walk on the street, and lights were blinking yellow.  Given this, when we returned from schul, Nativers continued the tradition of sitting on the street and singing.  Almost 80 kids, in a circle, at the intersection of Keren Ha-Yesod and King George Street, which is a busy, busy intersection.  We had onlookers surrounding us for as long as 30 minutes, many including Great Synagogue daveners who had just left.  Many of the songs we sang were slow, but then we started doing many upbeat songs.  We got up and danced a lot.  I wondered if we were too happy for the spirit of Yom Kippur.  I wondered what many of the onlookers thought of us teenagers filling the street with songs and eventually dance.  But I couldn't and didn't care.  I was too used to Yom Kippur being a purely solemn holiday, where we don't even say chag sameach on this holiday; yet I find lots of room for happiness on Yom Kippur.  We wear white and say "barukh shem kevod..." aloud because we are like angels on Yom Kippur.  While it may be appropriate to cry on Yom Kippur in desperation to be sealed in the Book of Life and out of such strong desire to change, it can't be left as being that simple.  It is a time for us to rejoice that God accepts t'shuva and we have the potential to start fresh for the new year.

That night was the first night of Nativ where I got eight hours of sleep.  Given how early t'filot are since it's now standard time, things were on an early schedule and I made it into bed by 10:15.  :)

Monday morning I woke up at 6:15, so that by 6:45 we would be out the door to services.  David (Helfand) and I realized that Shira Hadasha would have to be our place of worship for Shacharit.  Of course, a few other people felt the same way.  We were planning on going with Ariella Kristal and Shira and then a lot of other girls were interested in going as well.  So we went out in shifts, but the doors weren't open when we got there.  We waited outside and I got in some Rambam before the doors open. A gabbai showed up at around 7:15, and David and I had no problem getting seats. The ten girls also managed to get seats.  The davening was outstanding.  The tunes they use for various piyutim, etc. were extraordinary.  The ba'al musaf, who teaches many of my friends at Hebrew U, had not only a marvelous voice but also a great feel for the t'filah that comes from true Ahavat Hashem.  Though I know nothing of the Avodah service and was very bored, I got very excited when they sang the "mareh cohen" song that we did at the Ramah tisch on Friday nights.  The shatz yelled at everyone to get on their feet and sing and dance crazily.  Chag Sameach!

My plan had been to leave at break and go to the Great Synagogue for Mincha and Ne'ilah. However, Ariella wanted to stay for the rest of the day so I decided to stay too.  We took our break near Kedem and hung out at Emek Refa'im.

By Mincha I had lost a lot of stamina.  I could barely concentrate on the complicated points of Rav Kook I was studying before Mincha started.  I was very happy to be against a wall for the evening; it made it easier for standing, as I was having a hard time doing that, too.  But the rest of the t'filot were good.  A little technical difficulty with the shofar at the end of Ne'ilah - I can understand how one lacks saliva at the end of a fast, if that's at all related.  Then for La'shannah Ha-ba'ah people danced around the room; it was a nice sentiment of community.

So then eventually after Ma'ariv and break fast we came back, and I had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner.  It sounded like dinner at Agron wasn't so great.  Then I went out with some people with the intentions of having Burgers' Bar but then many of us went to get frozen yogurt, and then my friend LeeAnn and I went to get pizza.

I have never had such a powerful Yom Kippur experience.  For one thing, it was just something different.  Also, it's Ir Ha-Kodesh - the holy city - so naturally things will reflect the nature of the day.  But I also learned a lot about serving Hashem with joy and how to do t'shuva with joy.  It's good to be b'Eretz Yisrael.

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