The Holidays are for Everyone
During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Israelis from Eilat in the south to Katzrin in the north heard shofar and enjoyed meaningful, experiential services that enabled parents to connect their children to their Jewish roots and engaged people of all ages with central Jewish values and customs.
In the Diaspora, synagogues fill up on the High Holidays with people who feel a sense of nostalgia or who are looking for connection. In Israel, all too many secular Jews feel alienated from the religious establishment and are uncomfortable in synagogues, which they perceive as the purview of religious people.
The Yachad Program for Jewish Identity welcomes these Israelis to celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur by bringing the holidays outside of the synagogue and into the country’s public spaces.
From Eilat in the south to Katzrin, the ‘capital’ of the Golan Heights, Yachad’s Shofar Bapark (“Shofar in the Park”) volunteers blew shofar, shared stories and handed out Rosh Hashana treats in 460 public parks, building lobbies and courtyards – attracting people who hadn’t attended a synagogue prayer service and were so grateful to be able to experience the holiday. Children who had learned about Rosh Hashana in school were excited to see and hear the shofar. Adults broke down in tears at hearing it for the first time in their lives.
“The sound of the shofar really connects people to their Jewish spark,” says Lotan Parchei, the Yachad facilitator in Azor. “There is always such a feeling of unity as we blow the shofar in the park and discuss the meaning of Rosh Hashana as a community for whom Jewish heritage is an important common denominator.”
Their First and Only Connection
Among those who participated in the High Holiday programs were Jews from Russia and Ukraine, many of whom made Aliyah recently in the wake of hostilities between their countries. Lidia Stalmah, the Yachad facilitator for Russian-speakers in Haifa explained that in her neighborhood, Shofar BaPark participants included a mix of secular families who have been in Israel for some time and recent immigrants. “For many,” she noted, “it was their first time ever hearing the shofar. And for most of them, Yachad is their first and only connection with the Jewish heritage they were robbed of growing up in the Former Soviet Union.”
Wherever volunteers went, residents came out of their apartments to hear the shofar and ask questions. “There was a tremendous interest in learning,” attests Chernet Varkow, the Yachad facilitator in Neveh Yosef. “One person told me, ‘Thanks to you, I feel that I truly understand the meaning of Rosh Hashana’.”
Family-Friendly Yom Kippur Services
While Rosh Hashana includes many symbols and customs that people can enjoy outside of a specific religious setting, such as the shofar or apples and honey, Yom Kippur is a day focused almost entirely on prayer. For the millions of secular Israelis less familiar with prayer or disconnected from the synagogue, it can be a challenge to connect meaningfully to the central themes of the day.
Yom Kippur LeKulam (“Yom Kippur for Everyone”), with family-friendly, explanatory services, is designed especially with this population in mind. Services held in over 300 locations throughout the country attracted tens of thousands of Israelis anxious to connect to the holiest day of the Jewish year. For the many people who simply don’t feel comfortable in a synagogue or aren’t used to the extensive Yom Kippur prayers, these services were a wonderful, family-friendly way for people to connect spiritually.
“My mother isn’t religious, and my grandmother wanted me to experience Yom Kippur services,” shares Meirav Bachman, who has been attending the Yachad Yom Kippur service with her grandmother since the 6th grade. “The atmosphere is very open and there are stories and explanations of the prayers. People know that if they come to Yachad’s service, they will experience a meaningful Yom Kippur.”