9/11/2001 & The Yom Kippor War, 1973

At last week’s Rosh Hoshana service, the rabbi spoke about defining moments in our lives. Obviously, 9/11/01 was a defining moment in America’s history. In looking for my essay on the Yom Kippor War, 1973, I realized that this event was also a defining moment in my history (as well as Israel’s).

I decided to share my story with you, because the faces on the recent replay of 9/11 showed the fear I felt in Israel in 1973 and prompted me to post my own defining moment and also because this weekend is Yom Kippor. If you have a life-changing moment or event you wish to share, please send it to me so I can share it with other readers.

Aerial view of the first kibbutz I lived on while learning Hebrew….and dodging bombs!

A Different Kind of Yom Kippor

The year was 1973.
The place was a northern kibbutz near the Galilee.
The time was sundown, Erev Yom Kippor. (Evening before the day of Yom Kippor)

The 40 non-Israeli families in the Absorption Center of the kibbutz gathered on the lawn near our apartment after dinner. We represented many countries: Argentina, England, South Africa, France, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, and the USA. The resident “kibbutzniks,” being atheists, were not holding a Kol Nidre service  (special service on the eve before Yom Kippor), so we, the “foreigners,” decided to have our own Kol Nidre.

After dinner, my (then) husband Roger blew the shofar (ram’s horn)* that we had brought with us, loudly summoning all the families from the mercaz klita (Absorption Center). The service itself was conducted formally by an American who had studied to be a rabbi and instead, became a therapist. He wore his tallit (prayer shawl) and yarmulka (scull cap) and read the prayers by candlelight. It was a lovely sight!

*Shofar (Ram’s horn)

A tall, handsome Englishman with a rich, deep voice that brought shivers to my spine sang the haunting Kol Nidre melody. It was the most thrilling Kol Nidre I had ever heard, and almost everyone else felt the same way. The sermon was delivered by a Swedish Jew who spoke about the plight of the Russian Jews who could not leave their country to come to America or Israel. That struck a somber note, because all the families, no matter what country of origin, were aware of the problems Russian Jews faced. The formal part of the service ended with a young woman from Argentina singing a Hebrew song with a Spanish accent.

No one wanted to leave, and we lingered on the lawn long after dark, singing, talking, and sharing either in broken English, hesitant Hebrew, or other native tongue, and translating for one another through our children, who were all learning English and were more fluent in grasping Hebrew. We sang favorite Jewish songs we knew from our different countries of birth. The songs were familiar, because they were sung either in Hebrew or Yiddish, two languages we both recognized or understood. The melodies became a bond we all shared. Before returning to our tiny apartment, our “rabbi” announced that Yom Kippor services would be held again the next day at the closing of this holy day.

This is a photo taken in the woods near our kibbutz in 1973. I am with my (then) two children.

No one attended that service, for early the next day, the Egyptians and Syrians ushered in the 1973 Yom Kippor War and the most terrifying time of my life. We spent many nights in the underground miklat (bomb shelter). During the day, if the sirens went off, we ran to a shelter. (One of the oldest woman residents living on the kibbutz had been through too many wars and never bothered to go to a bomb shelter.) We covered our apartment windows with black plastic and some of the other permanent residents painted the windows of the dining room an opaque blue. At night we walked to dinner in bleak darkness, carrying tiny flashlights to see our way. A children’s house in a nearby kibbutz was bombed that first night, so the precautions were necessary, because the danger was real.

Several days later we returned to sleeping in our own beds with our children instead of staying in the bomb shelter, which had actually been converted to a clubhouse a few years earlier. By the time of the cease-fire, we were back to our normal routine: Hebrew classes in the morning, work in the afternoon, dinner with our children. We removed the black plastic from our apartment windows and life went on “as usual.” But sirens and whistles still make me jump, because they remind me of that terrible time of war, my first and, I hope, the only one I have to experience.

For the rest of my life I will always remember that Kol Nidre service and the bombing the next day. While I carry a fear of war from that night, more powerful is the feeling of community I experienced sitting on the lawn, singing and praying in our Biblical language halfway around the world with Jews from all points on the globe.

To this day, Kol Nidre remains my favorite service.  It was certainly a different kind of Yom Kippor, one I will never forget!

Closeup picture of a kibbutz (from the Internet)

2 thoughts on “9/11/2001 & The Yom Kippor War, 1973

  1. Inspiring, ES. I remember you saying you had worked at a kibbutz, but I had no idea you experienced the terror of war there–and had your children and husband with you. It is at such defining moments, that one feels the bond of community.

    At any rate, I am glad you survived and have and are living a long, full life. I have always admired your keeping of your Jewish traditions
    and remember sharing Succoth with you in New England.

    Amazingly I have never experienced war or terrorism of any kind. But I think I carry my father’s memory of the holocaust in Germany in my bones, as he said he saw a death camp and the accidental bombing of a British base–horrific stories and scenes. Said not one day passed that he did not think of the War. So I am a child of war–but not directly. I worked many years in the peace movement and still hope for a nuclear weapon-free world in my lifetime.

    Blessings & love,

  2. Thanx for your kind words.Your dad’s memories are strong enought to last, as are mine. I am coming to State College tomorrow, a last minute decision. Will be there Sun eve to Mon aft, then to H’burg for a business stop for Alan. Any chance of meeting you at the Zendo or in State College? ellensue

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