Yehudim and Yom Kippur

Did I ever mention the street musicians here? There are quite a few of them, mostly pretty good. Of course, there was that one violinist by the mall whose flats were too flat, but other than that, I really like walking around on Fridays, or Yom Shishi, when everybody is out and about, laying in provisions for Shabbat (on Saturday – actually it starts at sundown on Friday), and buying newspapers and flowers. Observant Jews are allowed to read, but not write, on Shabbat, and the day itself is treated as a guest, so people buy flowers, which is apparently the proper thing to do when you are either receiving a guest or going as one. Treating a day as a visitor still seems slightly odd to me, but, hey, they don’t care what I think. Besides, fresh flowers are awesome. Especially roses. I might just get some one day, just for the heck of it.

Where was I? Street musicians. Every Friday, there’s a floutist that plays across the street, but I can hear him so well that he might as well be under my window. Mainly he sticks to a repertoire of Bach and some baroque composers, and I find myself inadvertently humming along to stuff that I played as a second or third year violin student. Amazing how it sticks with you – there are tunes that I didn’t remember I remembered until I heard them.

The floutist’s repertoire also includes “Amazing Grace”, and I love waking up to it on Friday mornings, but I wonder if he knows that it’s a Christian hymn. Today in particular, I was really surprised – he was playing “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” (that was really odd to hear, here in Israel of all places). If you had asked me what kind of music I thought I was likely to hear in Tel Aviv, I definitely would not have listed spirituals from the Old South. Partly because of distance and ethnicity, but also because persecution is alive and well and living in Israel. I haven’t heard of any physical incidents, but there is certainly discrimination.

Another thing that surprised me is the noticeable Asian demographic. I’m used to walking city streets in the U.S. and hearing mothers address their children in Chinese or Vietnamese, but I’m pretty sure I did a double-take when I heard a possibly Vietnamese mother call out to her child in Hebrew.

I asked my teacher, who is an Orthodox Jew, about it, and received a very interesting answer.
There’s a sizeable Asian population – including Filipinos – that came as workers, but there is also a group of Burmese (from what is now known as Myanmar) who claim that they came from the Biblical half-tribe of Manasseh (one of Joseph’s sons). How they explain that I’m not quite sure, but I think it has something to do with the Jewish diaspora spreading to Burma, somehow.

Jews in Hebrew are reffered to as Yehudim, indicating that they are descended from the tribe of Judah, and this applies to the majority of Israelis. However, some can trace their ancestry back to Benjamin, Judah’s half-brother, and those with the surname Cohen (a family that is somehow recognized to be more elite – and yeah, like the Cohen House at Rice) come from the priest-tribe of Levi.

In addition to the Asians, the other noticeable minority is the Ethopians, of whom some claim to be from the tribe of Dan. More base their right to come to Israel on the premise of an ancestor who was a child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (which is not Biblically supported, and has been the source of a debate among the Jews for awhile). However, the fact remains that there are practicing Jews in Ethiopia with a history of a few thousand years, even though they did not read or write Hebrew like the rest of the diaspora. And when conditions got tough for them in Ethiopia in the ’80’s, the State of Israel arranged for them to escape to Sudan, and then airlifted them to Israel. (This was despite the fact that Israel was officially not talking to Sudan – but money talks, loud and clear.) But they did have a lot of discrimination and citizenship issues, and I think there is still a bit of racism in “normal” Israeli attitudes, which is really sad.

Another interesting thing my teacher said is that there is a large people-group in Afganistan, known as patanim, who are both practicing Muslims and practicing Jews. I don’t know how the logic works on that one – Israeli professors are scratching their heads over it – but they call themselves Jews and keep Jewish traditions and drink wine on Shabbat, even though Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol.

Anyway, if I got any of the above wrong, I deeply apologize and blame my teacher.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, starts at sundown today and ends on Sunday. In ancient Judaism, this was the day when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place) with blood, to atone for the sins commited by the people during the year. In modern times, there are no sacrifices, but a fast and strict rules are observed, and observant Jews spend the days in the synagogue. There is a law against anything driving on the streets, all places of business close at noon on Friday, and nobody makes any phone calls.

I think most people around here will be sleeping to get through the fast. Two big football matches this weekend (watch them!): USA v. England, Women’s World Cup Quarterfinals, Saturday 1300 BST, and Manchester United v. Chelsea, Premier League (ManU is currently 4th, Chelsea 5th), Sunday 1600 BST.


“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work – whether native-born or an alien living among you – because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” – Leviticus 16:29-34

“For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself… Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 9:24-26, 10:11-14


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