Deborah Danan

I was at a disrupted Yom Kippur service and I don’t know how we atone

A public prayer service for Yom Kippur separated by a mechitzah in Jaffa, September 24, 2023 (Twitter)
A public prayer service for Yom Kippur separated by a mechitzah in Jaffa, September 24, 2023 (Twitter)

I am late. This year, as with other years, the local yeshiva has set up a makeshift minyan on the grass above Givat HaAliya beach in Jaffa.

I hurry past my Muslim neighbors. They bid me a heartfelt Shana Tova.

I am wondering if some of the younger generation will disturb the prayers this year by honking their horns as their motorcycles squeal past the worshipers amid breakneck backfire.

I am wondering if my children will disturb the prayers this year as per their custom.

I will soon discover that there are adults who are behaving like children and who will disturb the prayers far more than my own boisterous brood.

The Kol Nidrei prayers open thus:

By the authority of the court in heaven above, 
And by the authority of this court of earth below, 
With God’s consent, 
And with the consent of this community,
We welcome all who long to return to join us in prayer.

The protesters – on my side, men, who are sitting between the women, and a handful of women – make it clear that they are not interested in the consent of either God nor this community and are certainly not interested in joining us in prayer.

They are, however, also talking of a higher court and a lower court. They call the worshipers lawbreakers and take out their phones to record the evil transgressors.

For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you;
from all your sins shall you become pure before God. 

There is no atonement, says a protester. You will not be forgiven.

My daughter turns to me. Why is he saying we won’t be forgiven?

Another woman discards a prayer book she has been offered.

We have betrayed, we have deceived, we have been self-absorbed, we have slandered, we have spread lies, we have been jealous, greedy, stubborn, judgmental, hypocritical, we have hated, we have stolen, we have hurt our fellow man. 

Ben Gvir should come and save you now!
(But we voted for the opposition?)

Look at you women! Have you no voice? Are you oppressed?
(Some of us are. Those who choose to wear what they want on a bus only to be told to ‘cover up or get off’ are.)

A woman accosts the cantor leading the services.

Shame! Shame!

The border police officers rush in. They drag her away from the cantor whose voice catches as he continues to intone. For all these sins, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, atone for us.

The woman, a septuagenarian, looks like a tangled marionette, slumping at the officers’ feet. ‘Stop the violence! I could be your grandmother!’ We silently will them to let her go.

Shame! Shame!

We head home, heads hung in shame.

The marionette has detangled herself and is standing by a tree, hurling invectives at the passing worshipers. I stop to talk to her with my neighbor. We introduce ourselves. Maybe I know her from the protests on Kaplan? I apologize for the way the officers treated her. I ask that she stop filming me and my son. She doesn’t comply. Like clay in a sculptor’s hand, the law is malleable. Filming a minor without permission is allowed. Blocking main arteries during protests is allowed. But not this. Not public prayer – separated in parts for those so inclined – in the Jewish state.

All’s fair in love and war.
And make no mistake, she reminds me, this is war.

You people have grown so much, every time I look around, there are more of you, she tells me.

You people.

The next day after afternoon prayers, the rabbi of the yeshiva, Eliyahu Mali, tells the congregation that there is no room for anger in our hearts on this day, the holiest of all days. We must have full compassion. And for that reason, the Neilah prayers will not be held outside as planned. He instructs the cantor to open the holy ark so that the congregation could recite Psalm 130 on behalf of ‘our brothers protesting outside, who cannot or will not pray for themselves.’

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, 
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?

About the Author
Deborah Danan is a journalist and communications consultant based in Jaffa, Israel.
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