By Anessa V. Cohen
As soon as Rosh Hashanah is over in Jerusalem, everyone changes gears and gets ready for Yom Kippur. So many events are happening in Jerusalem during that week leading up to Yom Kippur that the city seems to be buzzing all day and night.
Starting a week or so prior to Rosh Hashanah, professional tours are given at midnight to the secular community, including schools, groups, and anyone else wanting to tag along. If you can stay up and walk through the old neighborhoods surrounding the Machane Yehuda shuk, you will be amazed at the number of groups going from street to street, stopping to listen to their guide tell stories of those areas dating back to the time Sir Montefiore built them in the late 1800s.
These tours have become so popular that the municipality took the time to interview residents whose families go back to the 1930s and 1940s in those areas and even copied and hung waterproof pictures of those families, complete with short explanations of who they were and where they lived—just like you might see in a museum.
The tour guides tell the story of how the neighborhoods evolved. They point out the wells from which the residents drew water, and explain that on Rosh Hashanah the wells would be open for Tashlich too. Even today, some of these wells are reopened for Tashlich. Old shuls are examined and their histories told. It is not unusual to see signs we would not see in our shuls here. For example, a sign in Jerusalem might have the name of the shul and then an additional sign stating, “For pure Sephardim only (samach tet)” (meaning Sephardim of Spanish Inquisition-time heritage), or “Young Iranians.” The Adas Shul for Syrians is also a popular spot on this tour.
All these little neighborhoods at one time had their own names—Maskeret Moshe, Ohel Moshe, Mishkenot, Zichron Tuvya, and Knesset Israel, to name a few. Today all of these small neighborhoods have been lumped together and are now known as “Nachlaot.” Except for those families who grew up there and whose parents grew up there, these old neighborhood names have kind of been lost with time.
The week before Yom Kippur is also a time when the radio and television shows broadcast nonstop commemorations and historical remembrances of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Besides stories of the war and interviews with soldiers reliving where they were and what they experienced during the war, there are dozens of commenters gathering in different forums to shed new light and offer new opinions on what happened back then.
If you have had enough of listening to different slants on the Yom Kippur War, you can change the channel and hear doctors who have been brought in as guests on news shows giving advice about the best foods to eat prior to Yom Kippur to ease your fast, or even what they consider the best food options for breaking the fast. As you get to erev Yom Kippur, you are inundated with every angle of being prepared for Yom Kippur and the varied opinions on the best way to go through the fast in an easy manner.
The Jerusalem municipality also jumps in with a Selichot concert, which has become an annual event. This concert takes place in Safra Square and typically draws thousands of people from all over the country.
By 2:30 p.m. on erev Yom Kippur, everything starts to shut down in the city, paving the way for the beginning of Yom Kippur. The traffic lights are turned off and traffic itself slows to a trickle—even secular Israelis tend not to drive on Yom Kippur. Quiet descends on the streets as people prepare, and you can almost hear a pin drop—the silence is so pervasive. Then suddenly, from nearly every building, people in white emerge almost as if by signal and from every direction head to shul.
I wish everyone an easy fast! v
Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, www.AVCrealty.com. Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to anessa.cohen@AVCrealty.com.