Bicycles, DVDs and a huge pile of newspapers? It turns out that a secular Yom Kippur
can be different than expected. The Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture marked the holy day this year, for the fourth time, in a Jewish-Israeli version, with the atmosphere of a yeshiva.
On the agenda: A prayer, "a personal conversation with Hayyim Nahman Bialik," meditation and blowing a shofar. On the menu: An optional fast.
"This day is really complicated for a secular person, because contrary to most holidays, where it is not too complicated to get around the religious issue with a dreidel, a doughnut, by plating trees or offering the first fruits – Yom Kippur is devoid of secular symbols," explains Bina Director Eran Baruch.
"Those who go down deeply know that on Yom Kippur there is no atonement for offenses committed between man and man. In other words, everything on this day is between man and God."
Bina, which operates as part of the network of seminaries in Israel, has not avoided questions such as "who do I pray to?" and throughout the years has formed a version combining segments from the festival prayer book with Hebrew literature and poetry, and an agenda which includes traditional customs alongside more "Israeli" content.
On Yom Kippur Eve, the center recited Tefila Zaka (the initial holiday prayer which enables each worshipper to announce universal forgiveness), welcoming the holiday with songs. After the Kol Nidrei and evening prayers, a lesson titled "a personal conversation with Hayyim Nahman Bialik " was held.
Later in the evening, the students gathered for a group discussion, followed by a lesson for adults and guests about "Haomer Echta Veashuv" – an expression originating in the Maimonides' Laws of Repentance.
The day of fasting began with a morning prayer, comprised of songs, introspection and meditation on the issue of "self-forgiveness," a "my Yom Kippur" workshop and a singsong. The program then continued with a Mussaf prayer, a reading of the book of Jonah, a quiet walk through Tel Aviv's Neve Sha'anan neighborhood and the closing prayer, followed by blowing the shofar and breaking the fast.
So at the end of the day, is the secular person also forced to connect to the holy day through the same prayers?
"It appears that this matter originates in the approach viewing the text as a source of inspiration rather than a source of authority," Baruch clarifies. "In general, we are not afraid to talk about God here and do not avoid asking these tough questions, like 'does the prayer even have an addressee?' During the month of Elul, for example, we dealt greatly with the issue of forgiveness and studied the Yoma (Talmudic tractate)."
Bina's director believes that like the traditional version, "many of the songs of Hanna Szenes and Leah Goldberg are a type of prayer as well," but he also knows that there are those who will relate to them and those who won't, just like there are those who fast and those who choose to eat.