I’ll tell you right from the start that there will be no pictures in this blog entry since you can’t take pictures on Yom Kippur. You also can’t drive your car home late at night after spending Yom Kippur eve with friends. It’s “forbidden.”
I am the first person in line when it comes to following the rules. I’m usually such a Goodie-Two-Shoes that it’s disgusting. I cannot abide by or tell a lie and have the worst poker face on earth. It’s just not in me. That saying, I need to explain that last year, my first Yom Kippur in Israel, I did not use my car. I didn’t have a car then, come to think of it, but I probably wouldn’t have used it. I was aware that the streets are almost devoid of any traffic, save for an occasional car driving around the periphery. It was explained to me that it was just a custom not to drive. A custom. And so when friends at a nearby moshav, who had been born and raised right here in this area, asked me to come for dinner, I didn’t think anything of it. That was until I tried to drive back home at 10:30 pm.
The scene went something like this:
Roadblock on Rt. 65 (that’s the outer road that leads up to Nazareth). Earlier there was police activity at that spot, but I though it was for an accident or something like that.
I quietly got in my car, being careful not to make noise closing the door, willing the engine to start as quietly as possible. I exited the moshav and headed down Rt. 65 toward another outer road that skirts all neighborhoods and would put me exactly in front of my apartment.
I approached the traffic light. A policeman waved me to a stop. He walked over, followed by an armed soldier, who carried his rifle in his arms. I slowly rolled down my window and the sun-tinted, darker, rear passenger window so that they could immediately see it was just Rocco and me in the car.
“Where are you going?” asked the policeman, speaking Hebrew in a heavily accented Arabic accent.
“I’m going home.”
“Where do you live?”
“47 Gilboa. Gilboa and Begin”
“It’s Yom Kippur.”
“Yes. I know. I’m just going home.”
“Don’t you know it’s Yom Kippur?”
“Yes, I know. I am only a few kilometers away.”
“It’s Yom Kippur!”
“I’m not Dati (religious), but I know it’s Yom Kippur.”
“Assur!” (not allowed).
“OK. I’m sorry. Can I just drive home now?”
“No. You must turn back. Turn around.”
I looked back at the road, relatively empty except for a few more cars waiting behind me.
“Where should I go?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “Just back.”
Then I get the gesture of the thumb and two fingers which, in Italian means, “what the hell do you want me to do about it” but in Hebrew sign language means, “wait a second.”
The cop goes over to the other cars behind me. A family of Arabs get out of their cars, speaking in a quite agitated manner to the police (not the usual loud conversational tone, but a few levels above it. Obviously something is up). I’m not worried, just aware that something has happened to these people.
The policeman comes back to my car telling me that I must turn around and go back, away from Afula. The religious are throwing rocks at any car that passes and they obviously have just attacked the car behind me. It’s not safe. I must go back.
I’m speechless. I can’t even gather the emotions or words to help me sort through this. What’s going on in my head: Anger that I can’t drive home. Anger that I didn’t realize there would be a problem (my Israeli friends knew I’d be driving and they’ve lived right here for 50+ years . . . so any hesitation I had about driving was squelched when I received their offer. Surely they would have said something). I’m embarrassed that an Arab policeman had to tell me it was Yom Kippur. I’m embarrassed that Jews in my little Afula area were throwing rocks at the Arab families behind me, and would have probably felt even more entitled to do so had they found me in my car. I don’t understand why they can potentially harm someone but I can’t try to mind my own business and go out of my way to go home quietly. I’m also totally confused because I had been told that Yom Kippur was the biggest day for people to be out on their bicycle. Erev Yom Kippur. More bike sales that any other day in the year. It’s fine to schvitz and work out on the hills as you bike around, but you’re not allowed to quietly get in your car late at night and purposely take the outer circle to get home quietly because it’s Yom Kippur.
A quick call to my friends ensued: “Hi. It’s me. Sorry to bother you, but can I come and sleep on your couch? The policeman won’t let me get back to Afula.” Two minutes later, I’m back in their house after having had to place a call again to get them to electronically open the gate.
“Well, no problem!” they say. This is Israel. Grab a pillow and we’ll see you in the morning. Maybe then the road blocks will be gone.
What can I say? Something that evening told me to bring Rocco with me rather than leave him at home (what would have happened to him if I couldn’t get back to let him out to go pee?). I also thought to bring some solution for my contact. Never know when the dust will get in your eye and you’ll be in trouble without it.
The outcome: 5:45 I headed back out, prepared to take a really long, circuitous route to my house. But the police were gone, as were the roadblocks. I was home in 3 minutes, passing a total of 4 other cards (I counted).
This will take me a few days to process. It’s my first taste of having the government enforce religious customs. And that was very odd. The inconsistency of what was allowed and accepted strikes me as having just as much hypocrisy as does its parallel by Jews observing the holiday in the U.S.
I can also say that this was the first time that being approached by a policeman and an armed soldier made me uneasy, especially as I understand that they were protecting me. From other Jews.
I suppose that was the turn of the screw.