This past Yom Kippur is one that will be remembered for a very long time. The degree to which people contorted themselves in order to come up with creative and practical ways to deal with the current situation and have a meaningful davening on Yom Kippur was astounding. Between the virus, the restrictions, the weather, and the obligation to fast, the solutions were varied and truly remarkable. Some davened early. Some davened late. Some davened indoors. Some davened outdoors. Some built structures solely for the tefilot of the Yamim Nora’im. Some davened in parking lots. Others in public parks. But wherever one found oneself, the experience was a first for all. In Tel Aviv, Neilah was attended by many who do not usually observe Yom Kippur, nor do they view it as the holiest day of the year. Who knows what was stirred in the souls of onlookers who stopped in their tracks to listen as the shofar was being blown outdoors at the culmination of Neilah?
After Yom Kippur, my family members excitedly compared notes about each of our experiences. “We started at 5:45 a.m. and finished by 10:00!” “We started at 6 a.m. and davened until noon!” “Until noon? In the sun? How did you manage?” “We had shade for most of the time.” “The singing was great!” “The gabbai gave such an inspiring speech before Neilah.” We all had much satisfaction from our experiences, which were all somewhat different yet somewhat similar at the same time. Then we spoke to my son who is serving in the army. His Yom Kippur experience was not even remotely like what the rest of us had experienced.
My son has been serving in an army base very close to Gaza. For the last week, he has been stationed at an outpost a few kilometers from his base. Soldiers from the base patrol the border while soldiers from the outpost are on alert so that they can provide backup in the event that it becomes necessary; they are always on call to deal with any problem that can develop from the other side. The outpost consists of three caravans: two serve as bedrooms and one serves as a kitchen. A truck comes to the outpost from time to time to fill up the water tank, which provides them with water for their basic needs (shower, kitchen use). Their electricity is provided by a generator. Food is brought to them from their base.
While we were adjusting to the fact that we were not davening in shul, my son’s davening was much further away from what we are used to on the Yamim Nora’im than ours was. My son built an eruv beforehand so that he and his fellow soldiers would be able to carry their machzorim outside. In this outpost this was no early minyan. There was no late minyan. There was no minyan at all. Even though there was no minyan, the religious and masorati boys davened together. My son “shared the amud” with a sephardi soldier so that the ashekenazim and sephardim among them would be comfortable and familiar with the davening. At night they davened near a tank and another military vehicle. Kol Nidre was very short. No “ay yay yays” whatsoever. My son davened Shacharis and Musaf outside his caravan on his own. When it got too hot, he said the avodah in his room. He was halachically not permitted to fast and was told to drink shiurim throughout the day. The other soldiers joined him once again for Mincha and Neilah. My son was the “shaliach tzibur” during Neilah and the soldiers really got into the davening at that point. They cried out “Hashem hu HaElokim” with all their might. My son blew the shofar ending with a tekiah gedolah. The tefilah was very moving, as Neilah always is.
All in all, it was a Yom Kippur he won’t ever forget. The only negative aspect of it was that on Erev Yom Kippur, due to the coronavirus, the Commander in Chief of the army decided to enact a one-month lockdown for soldiers as well. The soldiers were sorely disappointed to hear this. My son had been looking forward to coming home for five days right after Yom Kippur. Now he was going to be stuck for a whole month, on top of the few weeks he was already at his base. Fortunately, however, he had previously scheduled a doctor’s appointment for two days after Yom Kippur. For that he was given permission to come home for one glorious night, albeit with very clear restrictions. We were so happy to be able to host him and celebrate his birthday and inject him with a boost, as only family can do. Now he is refreshed, his battery has been recharged, and he is ready to return to his base. We look forward to his next leave from the army, may it be soon, B’Ezrat Hashem.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.