Yom Kippur

Voices from the field

Remembering My First Yom Kippur in Israel

By Lori Sagarin

I have never forgotten my first Yom Kippur in Israel.

It was Fall 1976. I was living on a kibbutz on the Lebanese border in Israel’s Western Galilee. For someone who'd attended shul regularly, on Rosh Hashanah there was something enticing about being able to use the “get out of shul free card” that seemed so common amongst the kibbutzniks.

But Yom Kippur was a different story. As the holiest day of the Jewish year approached, my anxiety intensified as I realized that I both wanted and needed a connection to a more traditional experience. Luckily, one of my new friends on the kibbutz was a young woman (stationed there as part of her army service) who sensed my anxiety and invited me home with her for the Fast. 

While the traditions of Ariella’s Moroccan family were unfamiliar, I found them oddly comforting. After a pre-fast meal (that bore little resemblance to the kreplach and chicken soup I was raised on), we walked to their small neighborhood synagogue. While Ariella’s father entered the unassuming structure, Ariella held me back. “Chaki,” she said. “Wait.” As we stood there, dozens of young people approached, but like us, they remained outside.

And then it happened. Almost magically the sound of Kol Nidre could be heard around us - the echoes of that haunting tune filling the streets from dozens of small synagogues home to Moroccans, Yeminites, Bucharians and other North Africans. Each congregation began their day of repentance in unison, and from the center of Holon, I closed my eyes and heard this holy cacophony. 

Throughout our lives we're (sometimes unexpectedly) transported back to a moment triggered by one of our senses. Each year as I sit in shul and prepare for the voice of our cantor to take me to that place of reflection and self-awareness, I take a moment to think back to that moment: The moment that saw me standing outside a synagogue in Holon, sounds of Kol Nidre echoing through the streets, experiencing my first Yom Kippur away from home. It was a moment that I will always remember, a moment where I found the whole of the Jewish people.

Memorabilia from 1970s Israel by Lori Sagarin