A Soldier's Perspective on Yom Kippur

A few years ago, I was on guard duty on Yom Kippur, on one of the army bases near Eilat. We were there guarding for a week, and my hours for guarding fell every evening during sunset and every morning during sunrise, which meant that I’d be on guard duty for a good chunk of the “important” Yom Kippur things. The opening prayer of Kol Nidrei, the morning prayer Shacharit, the closing prayer of Neila, and because Yom Kippur fell on Shabbat, I would also miss Havdala, the prayer separating Shabbat from non-holy days.

An Israeli soldier praying against the Western Wall

Every afternoon during the week before Yom Kippur I was up at my guard post and when the sun would go down and the wolves would start howling. On Yom Kippur, I asked the other soldiers who were on base with me to bring everything I would need for Havdala (a candle, something sweet-smelling, and wine or grape juice), so I would be ready for the end of the fast. The day hadn’t been so great. It hadn’t felt like Yom Kippur at all, it felt like doing guard duty in the boiling heat while fasting.

So when the sun went down, I was so ready for it to be over. I was counting the stars, waiting for a third to show up so I could finally take a sip of water, and hoping the other soldiers wouldn’t forget to bring what I needed for Havdala when a familiar sound started, the wolves started howling.

But after a minute, I realized that this time it wasn’t wolves, I was hearing the shofar. The sound of the shofar carried to my guard post. All over Israel, people were singing לשנה הבאה בירושלים, and here I was standing guard kilometers from the Sinai, where just a few decades ago other soldiers like me fought for the opportunity to fulfill the song now being sung all over the country, “next year in Jerusalem.”

Now on Yom Kippur, the most meaningful thing for me is when the shofar blows at the end. Even now, finished with my service, when I’m sitting in an air-conditioned shul, and everyone starts singing l'shana haba'ah b’yerushalayim, I can take a minute to think about the soldier currently on that base at that guard post, and all the soldiers who are making it possible and true for us to be singing those words, and that is the most meaningful part of Yom Kippur in Israel for me.

Written by YS.