Saturday, July 12, 2014

Please Forgive Me: The National Bicycle Day

September 14, 2013
When I was a young mother I wanted to attend exercise classes, but since I had two children, it was hard to get away.  My resourceful husband suggested that we’d  find an exercise program on television that I  could  do at home. As much as I hated this idea I had to admit that it was a reasonable solution. To make matters easier he fixed a wooden board to save my knees from jumping on the concrete floor.
That is how I began my romance with the legendary television instructor Charlene Pricket. Charlene taught aerobics, but she also loved to talk and to give advice. As she was jumping about she dispensed her views about the importance of leading a balanced life, and the latest information on exercise and nutrition. Exercising with Charlene became a significant part of my day, and I felt that with her common sense and knowledge she taught me much more than exercise.  
I hadn’t thought about her for many years but today, Yom Kippur, all of a sudden I remembered one particular piece of Charlene’s advice.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish faith. It is the day of atonement when God supposedly makes the decision whether we will be “signed in his book” for yet another year.
But over the last twenty years, the practice of observing the day in Israel has changed drastically. Since there are no cars driving on the road, Yom Kippur has become an unofficial National Bicycle Day. Imagine a big city where on a regular day the streets are packed with noisy cars and buses, and  then all of a sudden, as though by magic --silence.  Gradually the streets are filled with happy children on bikes, scooters, or skateboards riding with their parents or their friends.
This morning Johnny and I rode our bicycle for over four hours in totally silent and peaceful streets: we headed to the sea and rode along the shore before finally arriving to the river and then back home. It was a wonderful experience. 
Still, using this day for exercise could seem irreverent; shouldn’t this day of fasting be observed in prayer or quiet meditation?
This is when I thought of Charlene. Once when asked about her position on fasting in order to cleanse one’s system, she answered that as she washed her body and watched her diet, she felt clean enough. 
I like her answer; although fasting in Yom Kippur is spiritual and is not done for health reasons, I choose not to fast as my way of atonement. Actually, I have never fasted in my life; my formerly- religious father was adamant against it. When as a child I wanted to fast, he asked me if I intended to follow any other religious precept. When I answered that I didn’t, he said that he felt it was hypocritical to fast and suggested that instead I should try to be “good” all year around. I have tried to follow his footsteps.
However, by making our cities peaceful and quiet for one day on the holiest day of the year, I feel that we ask for forgiveness by giving Mother Earth a day of rest -- a Sabbath.  We could see it as a variation on another significant precept in Jewish law which is called shmita(translated literally as release).  According to Jewish law, every seven years the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden.
So whether we fast, ride our bike or just enjoy the quiet day, in a time of pollution and the rising greenhouse effect, letting the earth rest for one day of Yom Kippur could be considered a small and necessary act of atonement. Gmar Hatima Tova 

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