If there’s one thing Israel’s terrible at, it’s coming to consensus. There is absolutely no national consensus about what the right direction for the country is politically, socially, economically and so on. Rather, society is defined by a multitude of schisms — Arab versus Jewish; secular versus religious; Ashkenazi versus Sephardic (eastern origin versus western origin); right wing versus left wing.
I have always heard that the country shut down for Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. I didn’t find this idea to be too much of a stretch of the imagination, as every week stores close and buses stop running from Friday afternoon through Saturday night for Shabbat. Today I saw what it means for the city of Jerusalem to really shut down. Absolutely no cars or taxis drove along the roads, no shops or merchants’ carts invited customers and no workers went into the office.
This afternoon, I walked with some friends down one of the main city highways, a four-lane road usually filled with cars through the night, to the old city. I felt an eerie sensation walking down the middle of the highway, knowing that any of the other 364 days of the year I would have been seriously hurt if I attempted the same walk.
Most striking and beautiful about Jerusalem on Yom Kippur was the identical uniform of all the inhabitants — head-to-toe white. The holiday’s observers reminded me of sports fans at a big game: uniting with fellow passionate fans through their obligatory matching team garb. In any other circumstance, these fans could have absolutely nothing else to relate with each other over.
Whiteness symbolizes purity, as the holiday celebrates beginning a clean slate and being forgiven of all sins and wrongdoings. I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the national consensus to seek purity and forgiveness on this holiday. Israeli’s are stereotyped as rude and opinionated and I often sense little regard for the wellbeing of others.
Today as I was desperately searching for a cab at the immediate end of the holiday, I caught myself jumping on the local bandwagon. As a cab approached me a women next to me yelled, “There’s a line, we were here first.” To which I responded, “I’ve never in my life seen a line in Israel.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt bad and disrespectful. Today the entire country dressed together in white, seeking absolution and a fresh start. And maybe, just maybe, there can be hope for the one thing the country seems to agree upon.