A couple of days before Rosh Hashanah, my elder daughter returned home from her 12th Grade trip to Poland. I haven’t been to Poland, failing so far to find the motivation and/or the courage to confront our appalling past. I had no idea therefore quite what our daughter would be exposed to. Save that I knew it would in all likelihood be dreadful.
From the moment she left, I was anxious for her return. She was, of course, in very safe hands. And this is a trip made by thousands of Jewish school-children (from Israel and outside) every year. But, I simply was not comfortable with the thought of my daughter deep in the heart of — to paraphrase Rabbi Yisrael Lau — the world’s largest Jewish graveyard.
So, it was a beautiful moment when the buses arrived back in Ra’anana and the boys and girls leapt off into the arms of their waiting parents. This re-union felt very different to the times when I have collected my daughter after field trips and summer camps. On those occasions, the welcome back hug meant, simply, – we’ve missed you. This time, it was different. This time, as I held my daughter in my arms, the overwhelming emotion was – Thank G-d, you’re Home.
You’re Home. You’ve journeyed deep into the depths of our recent history. And you’ve come Home. You’ve seen the Ghettos. And you’ve come Home. You’ve stood in the midst of the Camps. And you’ve come Home. You have witnessed unspeakable evil. And You’ve come Home. You’ve honoured the dead. And you’ve come Home.
On Yom Kippur we will witness one of the most extraordinary sights of the Jewish calendar – a sight which is unique to Israel. Thousands of children will take advantage of the traffic-free day and will, literally, get on their bikes and take over the roads. Quite a sight to behold and — for those of us who grew up in Diaspora communities and used to the universal solemnity of the Yom Kippur day — quite odd too.
However, for me, this annual cycling ritual is a cause of great joy. Here, on Yom Kippur, our children deliver the most powerful expression of their collective freedom. The streets become a playground for a day and (save for the occasional collision!) represent the very essence of what Home is – a place where we can be free and safe.
Personally, cycling is not my thing for Yom Kippur. (Although I certainly am tempted to take out my bike and cruise along the Ayalon!). But, irrespective of religious preferences, I am looking forward to this year’s spectacle once again. Because, after all the tragedy in our recent past, when I see Jewish children care-free, safe and simply being children – I see more than bicycles. I see the Wheels of Freedom.