Once again, it’s time to hear from our sister in Jerusalem about what she is witnessing there as a believer in Yeshua. Put your prayer shawls on and pray for Israel and Sister J. Now here she is …
Greetings, dear brothers and sisters, from Jerusalem, the still undivided Capital of Israel.
May The Lord be glorified and may you be blessed as I seek to share, once again, about Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as I observe it from here.
Rosh h’shanah has now come and gone. The shofarim have sounded throughout the land and the Shana tova greetings have changed to g’mar kha’ti’mah tova [literally: may you end or finish with a good seal or stamp or signature, which means “may your name be sealed in the Book of Life.”]
This greeting is always a perplexing one for me to respond to, for I have the assurance that my name has been sealed in The Book of Life, but how to explain my joy and peace in a way that will make a difference and bear fruit in the lives of those around me is the key that I seek. Another greeting is easier for me to answer: “tsom kal” [may you have an easy fast]. I respond to this with “May your fast be meaningful.”
Sometimes this answer does bring about a rich exchange of hearts. The thought that we don’t need to endure a fast but to be thankful that through it we can more readily press through to God. This is often a challenging thought to those I speak with daily.
But after 21 years now of meeting Yom Kippur in the land, I notice differences. As in your land, the generations change and with them also the seasons and the expressions. An important landmark for one generation often disappears with the next, and so I notice the change of flavors here.
With the holidays (hagim) here, the kids are once again out of school and many tourists flood our city. Both tourists from outside of the country, but also many tourists from other parts of the country. Jerusalem is to the people, THE HOLY city, the city where the Temple (Beit h’Mikdash in Hebrew) stood and where the Western Wall (kotel in Hebrew) stands as the place of prayer. It’s the ancient city over which so many wars have been fought and are obviously yet to be fought, as the tension only increases daily, particularly over Temple Mount (Har h’Bayit in Hebrew).
As I ride the early morning train I often sit near the same people. One group of 3 regulars always catch my eye and stir my imagination. They are 3 Russian speaking men in their late 60s early 70s. Every morning they are deep in passionate, loud, animated discussion about something or other. One looks like a businessman and wears a white shirt and a neat knitted kippa. He always sits on the left. On the right sits the one with the security guard uniform, who always looks a bit confused and gestures as if he is constantly asking, “why?” B still he’s intent on understanding what appears to be world shaking decisions. In the middle sits the one that I call the “philosopher king.” Intellectual, highly passionate and sure of himself, he sits the center of the morning ritual consultation and is the unchallenged leader. He wears Levis and sandals and sports a professor-like beard, and yet there is no doubt in my mind that these 3 are perhaps neighbors and on equal footing.
What I am observing is a cultural order from the old country. It really does look as if they are deciding the most serious destinies every morning until they reach the central bus station where they get up and solemnly shake each other’s hands and part ways.
The three men fascinate me morning after morning as I watch their animated discussions. I was surprised to see “the philosopher-king” this morning with a most unusual, large kippa, but hand-made out of a burlap-type material and stitched with designs similar to American Indian designs in turquoise, burgundy and gold. Quite striking, signifying the place of his birth, securing his identity, saying “this is who I am.”
As they went through their parting ritual, my eyes drifted to a lovely tall thin girl in a straight black dress reaching to her ankles, covering the tops of her army boots. She hiked her huge, heavy backpack on to her back and exited with them. I guessed she was going to an army base, but perhaps she had been at all night prayers here in Jerusalem.
As I told you, the month before Yom Kippur, the early morning slichut [prayers of repentance] begin and many groups meet all through the night to seek repentance. After Rosh h’shana, they increase in intensity and become THE main focus. There are no more preparations for Rosh h’shana, so no distraction from the task at hand, which is to prepare hearts to stand as a people-nation before The Holy God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This is one the areas in which I’ve see a shift this year. Perhaps it has been happening subtly and I didn’t really take notice?
The days leading up to Yom Kippur have always been considered the holiest time of year − the days of awe. Certainly I’m not saying that EVERYONE takes the issues of life seriously, but I have always been struck by the fact that MOST Jews do seem really concerned about their eternal fates. When we first arrived in the land, there were still a few street criers who would go through some of the religious neighborhoods at about 2 a.m. to awaken the people to go to the synagogue for prayer. This very touching tradition disappeared some years ago now as cell phones became popular with their ever-convenient alarm systems.
I have described to you the shuk h’kaparah (or the sacrifice market) that USED to be out in the open for all. It was a place where chickens were purchased and slaughtered in a ritual manner. A prayer was said over them and then they were passed over the head (I believe 3 times) of the person being prayed for. It follows the idea of the scapegoat − that the sins are passed through the blood spilt. The shuk h’kaparah is now behind curtained areas as the current generation has held some disruptive animal rights demonstrations in recent years. The times change.
However we know that the blood of lambs and bulls were not enough and certainly the blood of chickens was never required. I want to scream that The Precious Blood of The Sacrificed Lamb has prevailed once and for all and has set us free and birthed PEACE within our hearts by bringing us and presenting us CLEAN before The One True and Holy God.
But all of my screaming won’t make it happen without prevailing prayer unto the REAL moving of His Spirit upon prepared hearts so that the veil can once again be pierced and rent and the scales fall from the eyes. Oh may it be soon, even now Lord!
The shuk was full of laughing groups of people at 6 a.m. and the challot (shabat bread) was already half sold out. I grabbed a loaf and gawked at the line of perhaps 30 people. The worker recognized me and beckoned me to come aside and wrapped my bread, bidding me a shabat shalom. I felt special and took off for a prayer meeting.
The groups of people were everywhere and it hit me that these were tourists from around the country that came to experience the slichut prayers in Jerusalem. They find it interesting rather than convicting.
“Are they rowdier than usual this year?” I asked myself. It seems to me that they are, which made me sad.
After prayer I continued on to work. On the bus, most people were reading Psalms or prayers. The seriousness of the time settled in again. As I walked past several synagogues after the bus ride, I looked in and saw each one filled with men, their heads and shoulders covered in prayer shawls (tallit) with tfillin boxes on their foreheads, straps wrapped around their arms (for the Biblical sources of these traditions see Numbers 15:37-41, Exodus 13:9+16, Deut 6:4-9), their voices fervent, and raised in prayer.
And at work again, serious faces wish me “g’mar kha’ti’mah tova” and I continue to long for and pray for that anointed answer.
God bless you!
Love from your sis in Jerusalem,