Holiday spirit (Ari Miller)

Holiday spirit (Ari Miller)
Bicycling on a car-free highway, Yom Kippur (photo: Yanone)

Yom Kippur, my favorite Israeli holiday, is here. While rooted in that archaic construct called Judaism, Yom Kippur is as secular as Chinese food and a movie on Christmas.

That’s Christmas in America and Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv.

As a kid I would spend the holiday in somber observance, fasting, with my head in a prayerbook at some linoleum-tiled suburban synagogue. I sure was a sucker back then, spending hours sitting and rising from the most uncomfortable chairs to the ear-splitting trill of the dentist turned Cantor for cash.

My extended family would hold the break-fast in the afternoon, before the fast was technically over. This was always the best family gathering with a buffet of smoked and cured fishes in pinks, yellows and whites, cheeses of the Swiss, American and cream varieties, bagels topped with all the options your  heart desires. It was immediate gratification – say you’re sorry through prayer, be rewarded with a schmear.

But I would head back to synagogue for the evening prayers with my dad. We looked down on the rest of the family for not being as jewy as possible. The highlights of those evenings of yore were: first) getting to blow a shofar on the synagogue stage and, second) arriving late to the break-fast to find that my mom had prepared a bagel for me, God bless her heathen soul.

Years later I moved to Tel Aviv, thanks gods. This city is everything. It has privileged, white Jews. It has African, Asian and Indian refugees, foreign workers, soldiers and alcoholics. It has crack heads, crack whores and crack dealers. Its street art is world class. It has it’s very own brand of hipsters. It has plastic and paper recycling. It has 24-hour bars. It has a car share. It has a bourgeois mayor. It very nearly had a communist mayor. It has a fruit bat population. It is one of the gayest cities ever. It has a false messiah. It has a beach. It has some of the best coffee in the world. It has reactionary cops. It has boulevards lined with too many families, with too many kids and too many dogs. It has some of the most beautiful people, proof of the benefits of race-mixing. It has ungodly levels of humidity ensuring that everybody, no matter nothing, sweats like a pig during its summer. And it all shuts down on Yom Kippur.

For a full day we exist without radio, television, motorized transport (ground and air) or commerce. And we celebrate: first) with a feast and, second) by taking to the streets. Carefully planned in advance, as there’re few options for last minute ingredient procurement, I make my traditional buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce and celery and a glorious dessert involving  poached fruit and short pastry. Friends make what their hearts desire. We sit around, more aware of our surroundings than on any other day of the year, smiling and existing amongst the people you love.

And then it gets ridiculously fun.

With traffic shut down and night fallen, us big kiddies come out to play. We bike around town, a veritable gang of gigglers, giddy from the chance to experience this otherworldly environ. Then it’s to the highway. A particularly serene setting, sitting in a circle and barefoot, our bikes lay scattered about and joint after joint are passed from hand to hand. It’s more than just a pseudo-apocalypse; it’s a stoner apocalyptic utopia.

Stoned and stuffed, we lay down on the surprisingly soft highway asphalt. Taking in the silence you can almost hear the stars winking at you. Or it’s the marijuana. Or it’s Yom Kippur. For sure it’s a divine combination.