Sunday, May 22, 2005

Rosh Hashana

Rosh HaShana Blog 2003

Once again, Jewish schizophrenia becomes evident as, in the fall, we spend a whole month preparing for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (spiritually through special prayers during the month before Rosh Hashana, but let’s not forget other preparations…), spend a day of fasting and reflecting on Yom Kippur…and then, bang! We’re rushing around in a frenzy of excitement as we get ready for Succot.

Not that the last month hasn’t been interesting. Israelis begin preparing for “the holidays” many weeks before they actually appear by putting off everything that they possibly can until “after the holidays”. Do you want to order something? “After the holidays” the store clerks will tell you. Want to get some papers from a government office? “Acharei HaChagim” they’ll put you off. Want to meet with your child’s teacher? Finish some bank business? Open a charge account? The country literally stops for 4 weeks while everyone deals with recepies, shopping, family, and, well, the holidays!

During the weeks preceeding Rosh Hashana, many school and tour groups have begun to head up to Tsfat to walk through the lanes of the Old City in the middle of the night, visit the old synagogues, and join in the special dawn “awakening” prayers. From my house across the parking lot from the Old City, I can hear the groups as they decend from their busses and mill around the area, but luckily, no one comes over to our side of town. However, in the Old Jewish Quarter, the hours between 12:00a.m. and 6:00a.m. are crowded with tourists, mostly secular, who come to drink in the religious atmosphere of Tsfat during this month of reflection and repentance.

Every year, the boys from Hagai’s school meet at the old Sepharadi Abuhav synagogue on one of those mornings to join in the special prayers, and this year, I accompanied Hagai and his sleep-over friend when they met their class one morning at 4:30a.m. I couldn’t have been more shocked at the throngs of people milling about…school kids from Tel Aviv, tourists from Ashdod, and smatterings of the local hippies who populate Tsfat any time that something out-of-the-ordinary is going on.

Ariella and Yochi’s school also takes the girls to such evenings of “uplifting”, but they head OUT of Tsfat for their evenings…Ariella’s class spent one night in Peki’in, an ancient Jewish city near the Lebanese border which has had uninterrupted Jewish settlement since the time of the Second Temple.

During Rosh Hashana, the city’s male-female balance tips decidedly in favor of the females…hundreds of men go to Uman, a city in Russia where Rabbi Nachman of Breslav is buried. This is a relatively new custom…before the fall of the former Soviet Union, the site was off limits to Jews. But now, it has become a pilgrimage site for Breslaver Hassadim and wannabes on Rosh Hashana…thousands of men (I’ve never heard of any women going) take advantage of cheap plane tickets to spend a few days praying at the site of Rabbi Nachman’s grave, as well as other gravesites of rabbis in the area.

This year, our mayor went with them -- he’s not at all religious, but it’s election year, so….

Yom Kippur was, of course, hot and dry. The days preceeding Yom Kippur were coolish, and it is again cooling off. But on Yom Kippur, it was, as the weather forcaster said, “unusually hot and dry”. There was always someone at home during the day…my fasters don’t like to wander around while they’re starving. But we still carefully followed the advice of our police chief, who warned Tsfat residents in the local paper a few days before the holiday “lock your doors. ALL the criminals won’t be in shul praying on Yom Kippur!) In the morning on Yom Kippur, I generally take care of a friend’s little girl who is wheelchair-bound, so that her father can go to shul…it’s too much for the mother to take care of the disabled child, as well as two other younger children. But by the evening, the breeze was beginning to blow, and I was able to sit outside and listen to dozens of shofars which were blowing from throughout the city.

As soon as Yom Kippur ends, the hammering starts as people begin their succa building. Talk about schizophrenia…that’s it! From the awareness of Yom Kippur of the precariousness of our lives to, literally within hours, the utter abandonment and joy of building and decorating ones succa (not to mention the planning of the most important part of the whole thing…the food – Hagai said that Succot was his favorite holiday because we always order pizza one night, and Yoni always makes his famous chili for one meal), it’s hard not to stop and meditate a little about the craziness of our Jewish calendar.

And maybe I will meditate a little…after the holidays.

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