Yes, This Ashkenazi Leftist Fasts on Yom Kippur

Well, I hold the Passover Seder, sit a little in the sukka, say Kiddush on Friday night and even hoist a flag on Independence Day. I’m just sick of the religious people and the settlers.

Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, October 13, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

At midday I called the editor. I wanted to have a few words about an op-ed for Friday, but the conversation turned to Yom Kippur.

“I don’t believe you’re fasting,” he said. “Yes, I’m fasting,” I replied, “and not for the first time.”

“Wait, without water either?” he asked. “Sure,” I answered. “A real fast.”

I could hear the disbelief in his voice, and then he moved on to another subject.

In the afternoon, a little before the holiday set in, Yossi Bar-Moha, the chairman of the Journalists’ Union, telephoned. He asked why I hadn’t registered yet for the Journalists’ conference in Eilat, but as we wound up our conversation he commented casually that the fast was beginning soon.

“I’m fasting,” I told him. “No, shut up, you’re not fasting. No way!” he said.

“What do you mean, no way,” I said. “because I’m Ashkenazi, leftist and work for Haaretz I’m not allowed to fast?”

Bar Moha muttered something uncomfortably and I went on: “Are only Mizrahi Israelis allowed to fast?”

He laughed, admitting that “it didn’t fit in with your image.”

Well, I fast on Yom Kippur, and I hold the Passover Seder, sit a little in the sukka, say Kiddush on Friday night and even hoist a flag on Independence Day – which is the most subversive thing you can do in Tel Aviv.

I’m just sick of the religious people and the settlers. The former confiscated my Judaism, with annoying condescension as though they were God’s representatives on earth, and the settlers confiscated from me love of this country and the flag. Suddenly, only they wave flags, over there, in the West Bank, like weapons, while we, so as not to identify with them, renounce the flag even on Independence Day.

As far as they’re concerned, I’m not a Jew at all and certainly not a Zionist. It’s enough that I drive on the Sabbath and support the end of the occupation for them to label me a leftist traitor cut off from tradition, a denier of Judaism, who lives on Sheinkin and has coffee in (the no-longer existent) Café Tamar.

But this image, like all images, is far from reality. On Yom Kippur eve I went to synagogue to hear Kol Nidrei, but stayed until the end of the prayer. At the end of the holiday I went to hear the shofar blown. It’s amazing how many kinds of transgressions the prayer writers managed to insert into the siddur. It’s really scary. In contrast, it’s embarrassing to read what they think of the “goyim,” who “worship vanity and emptiness and pray to a god who cannot save.” It is also clear that the blatant discrimination against women cannot be accepted, as in the devotion that goes “blessed is he who didn’t make me a woman,” in the morning prayers.

But keeping those customs and traditions are critical to building a nation. Man is a tribal creature by nature. He needs protection, society and the feeling of belonging. Once the tribe provided all that. Today the nation state provides the same needs. For man to recognize and identify with his nation, each nation has devised clear characteristics to differentiate it from the others, such as language, culture, history and religion. That’s the reason why a large majority of us do fast on Yom Kippur (even partially), and celebrate the Passover seder (even in an abbreviated manner).

Those traditional effects bind us, the free Jews, to the culture of our fathers’ fathers who lived here thousands of years ago, and connect us to our family home. They are the Boaz and Jachin – the two copper or bronze pillars which stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem – of the new Israeliness. It’s not by chance that the Zionist movement chose to build the national home here and nowhere else. In Uganda it wouldn’t have worked. There’s a good reason why the Palestinians want to establish their national home here, of all places, on the same piece of land they feel a historic affiliation to, the land that’s a source of joint heritage, customs and religion.

So arise ye oppressed masses and go to battle. The Bible is ours, it belongs to the free Jews. The holiday customs are ours, and so is the flag. We mustn’t let them exclude us from ourselves.

But yes, I’ll also admit I also wanted to prove to myself I was capable of not eating for 25 hours, which on a regular day seems to me like an impossible feat.