by Avi Davis
Yom Kipur, Jerusalem. The entire country enveloped in preparations for the day. The pilot and the stewards on the El Al flight, all secular, wish us ‘ chatimah tova’ (the Hebrew short hand for the blessing to be inscribed in the Book of Life) as we descend the gangway; same for the customs officials, the airport security officials and the taxi driver. Jerusalem is already awash in a sea of white – white shirts, white dresses, white shrouds – hours before the onset of the Festival. Zion Square, the throbbing heart of the city, looks like one of those mid-western towns in the U.S. through which a tumbleweed might occasionally blow. Except for the sporadic police car, it is eerily silent.
When the public siren sounds at 6:00 pm, signaling the onset of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the entire country seems to clank to a halt. And as I contemplate the awe that Yom Kipur inspires in the people of Israel – religious and secular alike, my mind is drawn back 42 years ago to the same day when all the young men were forced to leave their families, homes and synagogues and join their battalions in the Sinai Desert and Golan Heights to confront a surprise attack by the country’s enemies. Many would not return. Today, among those soldiers, would be four of my Israeli nephews.
In this part of the world there is a thin line between life and death, peace and war. The prayers on Yom Kipur itself make this clear – who will live and who will die, who will succeed and who will fail? – none of which is known and without exception we all walk the same tightrope. But here, in this country and in this city, that balance seems particularly poignant and relevant. To contemplate our good fortune, to think about our near misses, to give thanks for our fruitful year of life and to dare to hope and pray for another, makes fasting for 25 hours an utterly minor inconvenience – and almost a privilege. May we all merit, through repentance and forgiveness, the gift of life; may we all continue to long for peace, even as we know we must prepare for war; and may we all learn, as one of the central prayers on Yom Kipur implores us, the love of kindness, the elevation of righteousness, the kindling of compassion and the true blessings of life bestowed upon us by G’d.
Avi Davis is the president of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone