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Yom Kippur - Reflections for Us...and Iran

By Paula Stern
9/27/2009, 12:00 AM
Yom Kippur is an amazing day in Israel. It is the one day that no one goes anywhere. In almost all cities in Israel, cars don't move, taxis, buses - nothing. Everyone stays home or goes to the synagogue. It is the time we take out the past year, look it over, and do our best to make good on what we did bad; make better what we can; and beg...really beg...for the year to come.

Jews do not bow. We do not kneel on our knees in prayer; we do not lower ourselves to the floor...except on Yom Kippur. It is the one day we are brought to the ground before God, asking Him to help us, save us, forgive us.

During this time, we don't eat; we don't drink. We talk of solemn and serious things. We pray and spend most of the day in the synagogue. In 1973, on Yom Kippur, our enemies took advantage of our having pulled into ourselves and attacked our country.

To our great shame, we were not prepared for this treachery. We were naive in believing that no one would violate this holy day. We learned and we learned fast, though the cost was incredible. Our army consists of two main groups. There is the standing army - typically young men and women between the ages of 18 and 22 doing their national service...boys for three years, girls for two. Some choose to go in later, as Elie did, and so he'll finish the army a few months before his 23rd birthday, as his brother, already 19, will enter.

The second large group is the reservists. These are typically men up to the age of around 40, who can serve as much as a month a year. Up until the last war, these were the most experienced fighters; the ones who went to war. The standing army maintained; the reservists fought the battles. In the Second Lebanon War, things began to shift and in this past war in Gaza, the reservists were used less than the standing army.

When holidays come, the army does its best not to take the reservists from their families. And so, on that fateful day in 1973, most reservists were sent home...and it was left to the young soldiers to try to deflect the sudden and unexpected attack.

Israel learned - our holiness is not theirs; what is precious and honored here means nothing to our enemies. The war in Gaza began on Shabbat, our holy day. Why? I asked Elie - why did our army have to begin it on Shabbat and his answer was that it was because our enemies didn't expect it. We turned their desecration to our advantage.

This Yom Kippur, as the people of Israel begin our fast day, our holiest on the Jewish calendar, we are no longer naive, no longer fooled by the depths of evil our enemies can show to us. Two things will happen in the hours to come. Iran will begin war games and fire missiles that are strong enough to hit our country. They send us a message, they taunt, they dare.

The second thing that will happen is that our soldiers will go on alert. The majority will fast, where they are...and guard our borders while doing this. Elie is luckier than many. After so long in the army, he is one of the senior soldiers in his unit and so his position will place him inside an air conditioned control room for much of the time that he is on duty. Iran can threaten, but there is no fear here. Their threat is nothing compared to the determination we have, the commitment to our land, our faith, our nation.

And one more thought. There is a tradition, even perhaps a law, that a man puts on phylacteris (tephillin), each day (except Shabbat and holidays). These are small boxes, bound to the upper arm and the forehead during the morning prayers.

The small box on the head contains four parchments; the one on the arm contains only one. I once heard a beautiful explanation of this. The head has four - to encourage us to think freely in all directions. The one on the arm shows us that there is only one proper way to behave.

The arm of Israel, the strength, is a combination of so much of what we are. It is our faith, our beliefs. It is the army, our sons and daughters.

Tomorrow night, we will enter the synagogues with our heads clear and focused. We will search inside ourselves, in all directions, through the months of this past year to find ways to be better, stronger, kinder. That is our job, this year and every year on Yom Kippur. And while we do that, the arm of Israel will act as it must. Iran will flex its muscles in the next few days, but that is nothing to what Israel will do in the next day or so.

Our sons and daughters guard our borders, protected by a God who has promised us this land again and again. A God who has seen us brought home after more than 2,000 years to a land that was always ours, and always will be. The greatness of that covenant makes a mockery of Ahmadinejad and Iran. They are nothing, their missiles a joke compared to the Might of Israel.

May God grant the people of Israel a good year. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life and may we be granted peace. May our enemies know of our great love of our land and our God...and of God's great love for his people Israel.