Yom Kippur 1973 and 2023

JULIAN RESNICK writes from Israel

Chaggei Tishrei are just around the corner. This year my Chaggim are going to be crazy. Rosh Hashanah in Israel in Haifa with my wife’s parents; Yom Kippur in Birmingham, Alabama; Sukkot back on the kibbutz in Israel and Simchat Torah in Athens, Greece.

It was not always like this. For the first 16 years of my life, it was the same each year. The schul in Somerset West with the Levines, Posels, Tepersons, Kaplans, Millers, Grolls, Katzeffs, Brodovskys, Barrs, Sibuls, Goodmans, Krusss, Babuss, Schers, Ginsbergs and, for a few of the years, my cousins, the Feldmans (and now all I will worry about is who did I leave out… Finders too).

And of course, Rabbi Musikanth. There were possibly other rabbis in our little schul, but he remains stuck in my mind, never to leave the pictures in my mind’s eye. Now Rabbi Musikanth was huge, seriously, may I use the term ‘fat’? Our row of boys sitting behind the bimah had a favourite moment in the Yom Kippur service. It was the moment Rabbi Musikanth prostrated himself on hands and knees and we all held our collective breath as some of the starkes in the community pushed and pulled, struggling to get hm back on his feet. Every year we waited – in vain – for them to give up and for Rabbi Musikanth to spend the rest of his life on the floor of the bimah dressed in white.

Specific memories are a little vague, but I do remember that the schul was in walking distance from Somerset West Primary School (Somerset Wes Primêre Skool), and I remember the intense pleasure we got visiting the school during break to enjoy the fact that “they” were at school, and “we” were not. It seemed like a moment of restorative justice. We were on top!!

Of course, one High Holidays sticks out in my memory like none other, specifically Yom Kippur. In 1972, almost immediately after the Maric results came out and I got accepted to UCT Medical School, I deferred my acceptance and left for a year in Israel with Habonim (no Dror back then) on the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’Aretz. A year which changed my life forever. (Thanks to that year, I write this from Israel, am the grandfather of seven little Israelis, etc.). I returned in 1973 and began studying English Literature and Psychology at UCT (my parents less than delighted that I gave up my place at the UCT Medical school – again).

I am not sure where I was. It was definitely not Somerset West; we had moved to Sea Point in 1971. I was probably in Schul, but then again, I was way past any serious religious commitments and was enjoying the Jewish Identity I had discovered in Israel, the secular Jewish revolution, so perhaps not. 

It is the feeling that I will never ever forget. That absolute terror on the afternoon of Yom Kippur 1973. That feeling that we might be losing Israel. That the great experiment of the Jewish People, reclaiming our birthright and building a country worthy of the 2000-year period of waiting, might just be disappearing before our very eyes.

I wanted to leave that day for Israel, but I had nothing to offer and anyway the “Movement” (AKA Habonim) wanted all the madrichim to intensify our work for Israel in South Africa. I stayed and only flew to Israel to help in early January when Machaneh was over. Being in a deeply traumatised country as the men began returning from the front lines has stayed with me over all these years.

For a very long time, and I have lived here in Israel for over 47 years and have been through two Intifadas and many other difficult times here (and I must add, more wonderful times than difficult times), those feelings of deep trauma, of existential fear, have receded deep into the recesses of my unconscious. 

Now, as we approach Yom Kippur, exactly 50 years after the terrible fear of losing it all in a war against our neighbours, the fear has returned. This time the battles are not against neighbours who refuse to accept our right to exist; rather, the battles are among our own people. Do not be misled by Bibi Netanyahu. We are in a situation of deep crisis. Greater than anything we have known since those terrifying days in October 1973. There are no Syrian tanks advancing on us. There are no Egyptian Migs flying sorties across the Suez Canal. 

The wolves are not baying at the gates of the city.

From within, the language of hate is being used. 

From within, eyes glisten with a lust for revenge.

Smotrich and Ben Gvir transport me back to those dark days: the days of my youth; the days of growing up in an Apartheid State.

No, we are not what South Africa once was.

But, we will be, if we do not have the political will to rid our government of the pestilence of racism brought into government by the Religious Zionist parties. Tragically, as it is not who they were over the years, it is who they have become.

Can something which happens 50 years afterwards recall the same terrible anxiety? The anxiety of everything we love coming to an end?

Get up! Stand up!
Don’t give up the fight!

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah in 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the September 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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