Jerusalem walls don’t leave you alone. They are in your face, much like this city.
It is a self-selecting communication.
There is a passive conversation between strangers, the graffiti writers and artists and the random observers out in public, some paying attention, some just oblivious. Like religious belief itself.
For those tuned in, they are purported to be on the same wavelength, for others, the reception on the weaker ends of the range is spotty, breaking up at times. For others, they are tuned into a different station or even staying off the radio or internet. Not present.
This message written on the fence surrounding yet another new building site in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem lets us know that even when we feel ourselves in control of the dial, the mouse, or the remote (shlatter in our FamilySpeak), we are a secondary actor, and there is something bigger than ourselves, whether in our acknowledgment or not.
With this in mind, Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day of the calendar year, comes in soon here in Jerusalem. It is referred to as the Shabbat of Shabbatot – the greatest of all the sabbath days. This is believed to be the Judgement Day when God determines and finalizes the fates of us all for the coming year.
Those who observe spend the day fasting, in prayer and in self-reflection. Others enjoy the carless streets and the pleasure of bike-riding, skate-boarding, and hoverboarding on the only carless day of the year.
Why carless in a largely secular country? Because even the secular refrain from driving on such a holy day. This in itself is an act of identity. Even if your relationship to this day is national Bike Day somewhere in that tag is the understanding that it is a special day and set apart.
As part of prayer, Jews focus on repentance and giving charity as ways to redeem a harsh judgment as God seals our individual fates. It is common to find charity boxes built into the walls of older Jerusalem neighborhoods – your pocket change can find many opportunities to help out the needy as you do your daily errands.
And in case you miss the point, many boxes spell the deal right out: Charity Saves from Death, Charity is a Deposit Against Death. Others use a more upbeat message: For Blessings, Luck, Health and similar positive encouragement.
Another custom is Kapara (Redemption) to symbolically give a life for a life – buying a chicken with a charitable donation and using it to make the pre-fast meal or donating to a poor family’s meal. More commonly people use money as an alternative to “buy” their soul’s redemption with the intent to use it for charity. The pre-holiday markets with chickens giving their all to redeem a person’s soul are rapidly disappearing in the more animal rights-conscious world we live in.
For those who wear a uniform and serve in the Israeli army, this symbolic redemption carries more immediacy.
With the hope that the introspection which comes with this day will bring a good result to all.