It was for me my junior year abroad from the University of Minnesota. All summer I had been in the Hebrew University ulpan trying to get my Hebrew up to snuff. As foreign American college students, we had purchased cheap high holiday tickets at the Hillel House in the neighborhood of Rehavia. As the morning services ended, we could walk in the middle of the street without fear of blocking automobile traffic. But 2 things occurred on the walk home that - had I been a Jerusalemite - might have given me pause. One was an army jeep with 2 soldiers on board that came barreling down the street. I thought that if any vehicle was going to interrupt the Yom Kippur calm, it would be an army vehicle. That seemed to make sense. The I heard a sonic boom. These too were a near daily occurrence, so it meant nothing to me at the moment.
Desiring to rest from the services and the fast, we returned to our apartment. The
air raid sirens went off at 2:15 in the afternoon. I turned to my
roommate, also from Minnesota, and said in utter naïveté: "I
don't believe it - a tornado in Jerusalem?" The sky was only partly
cloudy. I just couldn't process at first that I was suddenly in a war
the air raid sirens went off, I literally tried to figure out where the
southwest corner of the basement apartment was - so completely
acclimated to tornado-preparation was I. But when I opened the front
door to my apartment I saw clouds in the blue
Mediterranean sky which did not portend trouble. And suddenly a young
girl - couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 - came running down our alley
screaming in Hebrew: "War on all the borders! War on all the borders!"
In those days I was working at being an observant Jew - "shomer shabbes"
as Walter from the Big Lebowski would say - and this became the moment I
will never forget and never regret. I needed to know if I was going to
soon die. So - expecting in my 19-year-old simplistic theology that
lightning would strike me on the spot - I turned on a radio. God didn't
strike me dead; this millisecond would be the beginning of a long
process that ultimately led me to the secular agnosticism I live with
today. But in those days, Israeli radio - even the Army Radio - went
purposely silent for this sacred day. All I could get was an AM
broadcast of BBC, and they only had a report from Syria, that Syrian and
Egyptian forces were attacking Israel. It would be 5 or 6 hours before
Israeli domestic radio got back on the air, with a speech by a clearly
rattled but nevertheless resolute Golda Meir.
an hour after the air raid sirens, I ventured out on the streets of
downtown Jerusalem. I remember that across the street from me was a
synagogue, and I watched two uniformed soldiers enter the synagogue and
leave, a group of the congregation hastily
departing within minutes. I remember seeing public buses lining up at
certain prearranged locations, and watching young men arrive by car to
board the buses. I saw something I will never see again - on the holiest
day of the Jewish ceremonial year, I saw an ultra-Orthodox bearded Jew
in his High Holiday finery driving a car! Whether, as in the case of the
synagogue across the street, people were being delivered with a
specific Order Eight call up command, or people were simply responding
with a prearranged protocol, the process of marrying up manpower to
equipment had begun.