Anyone who has been in The Land during “The High Holy Days” understands that there is an electricity in the air which is hard to quantify. Everyone is wishing you a “hag sameach,” “shana tovah,” not only your family and friends, but the postal clerk, the young lady at the check-out counter at the Mister Zol supermarket, the pharmacist, the cab driver, (in fact, the most effusive greeting (along with a handshake) I have received so far was from the cab driver who brought home my newly purchased sukkah from the Ace Hardware store in the local mall -- when I gave him an additional five shekel tip [4 shekels to the dollar]). In addition you see the greeting on banners in the mall, on signs in the buses that your driver wishes you a shana tovah (if he hasn’t in person, which he often does.) Of course, in The States, Jewish people and non-Jewish people with Jewish friends and acquaintances exchange holiday greetings. But there seems to be a difference in the substance of the greeting, for which I, of course, have an explanation.
Here in The Land, there is a sense that everyone is sharing a common “shana,” which is part of the common bond that brings us together. In The States, we are forced to juggle our calendar and our lives with the calendar, the seasons, and the needs of our secular society. “How come people always say that Rosh Hashana is early or late, but never on time?” The start of the Jewish year is judged in America by its relative proximity to Labor Day. If Rosh Hashana is “late,” then so is Sukkot, which means that large numbers of Jews in America and elsewhere are eating in their sukkah in rain gear or winter clothing. Hannukah is then close to Xmas and is melded into a mush called “The Holidays,” along with Kwanza and who knows what else. If Rosh Hashana is “early,” then the relatively minor holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the trees marks only the time of year when our gentile neighbors are throwing away their Xmas trees. Whether the year is “early” or “late,” Passover always seems to come in the middle of tax season. In general, all our hagim seem to occur in the beginning, the middle, or the end of something “important” in the secular calendar.
In The Land, Rosh Hashana always comes on time. How could it be otherwise? It has to come 30 days after Rosh Hodesh Elul, the beginning of the previous month. There is no urgency to get Sukkot in before it gets too cold or too wet; those two possibilities are statistically unlikely anywhere in Israel. Hannukah stands on its own two feet, or on the bases of hundreds of thousands of hannukah menorahs. Even with the efforts to attract Christian tourists, Xmas is not taken very seriously, especially as the Muslims have almost decimated their Christian counterparts in place like Bet Lechem (Bethlehem.) Nor is the secular New Year, Halloween, or even Super Bowl Sunday. But a minor day like Tu B’Shvat takes on a special poignancy, because whether it is early or late, it will mark the time when, after several months of cold and rain, the first harbingers of spring, the blossoming of the almond trees occurs.
There are two times of the year in Israel when employers give special bonuses to their employees: Rosh Hashana and Passover. You can see people whipping out their books of vouchers, buying out the store: clothing, furniture, food for the holidays. So when people wish you a Good Year, they are not only giving you a blessing for life, they are hoping that this feeling of well-being will continue.
A good part of the country does shut down during the intermediate days of Sukkot. Like all schools, our ulpan will be closed. We already got a call from our pharmacy: they will be closed for vacation for two weeks right after Yom Kippur. Come and get your prescriptions NOW. Most of the country will be engaged in a collective barbeque, rivaling the sacrifices brought in the first and second Temples.
Lest you think that all is peaches and cream in The Land, I must mention the current brouhaha over Yom Kippur and Daylight Savings Time. This year, Saturday night, right after Rosh Hashana, we went off DST, turning back the clocks one hour. Being a newbie here, I didn’t realize that the practice of changing the clock prior to Yom Kippur is relatively new, and is a bone of contention amongst the secularists. Now I was never a big fan of DST, and I was always delighted in The States when we went back to Standard Time, meaning that it wasn’t pitch black when I got up in the morning. Here in Maale Adumim, we are getting up around 5:30 so that we can make a bus into Jerusalem at 7 so we can be on time for our ulpan at 8. Lo and behold, the next morning, when I woke up, I could see the orange and purple flowers on the bushes in our front yard. And that evening, the sun went down behind the hills west of us an hour earlier, so it began to cool off an hour earlier. We are trading light for heat abatement, which is more than OK by me.
Now you can argue either side of the DST-Standard Debate, as well as the notion that ending a 25 hour fast at 6:13 rather than 7:13 has any value, but what I realized that this was not a rational discussion about DST. I have been following op-ed pieces in the English language version of Haaretz, and I have concluded that there are people in The Land who are taking this matter personally. The decision to change the clock earlier in the year was made, as many deals are made in the Israeli government, in the dead of night at the behest of the Hareidi parties. And there are people who believe that the main role the religious element in Israel is to make the lives of secularists miserable. One Op-ed contributor wrote that this change was ruining her family life and bringing in winter several months early! Of course, the daytime high for Yom Kipper throughout the Land will be close to 90F. Some winter!
Rather than leave you on a “downer,” let me report some more cheerful items, of special interest to animal lovers:
First of all, I have solved the kapporat dilemma! Many of us today are reluctant to swing a live chicken over our head, which was the original custom, part of a prayer asking for forgiveness. You can also use coins of the realm, but that seems kind of lame. Barbara and I were having lunch in the Machane Yehuda shuk at a tiny place which serves falafel, hummus and bean dishes, and freshly baked pita. If you had any idea how good this food was, and how little it cost, you would be on the next plane over here. As we were finishing our meal, Barbara noticed the strange assortment of goods in the next stall and went over to investigate (you know Barbara!) We realized that it was a pet supply store, and I noticed that there were rubber chickens (canine toys) hanging up on display. Perfect!!!!! Rubber chickens for kapporat!!!!
Second of all, Mr. Goatie is alive and well. To get to the town center of Maale Adumim – which contains the stores, the bank, the Maccabi health clinic, the post office -- we take a little path which is a decided shortcut. This path takes us past the “back yards” (10 by 20 foot plots) of people’s garden apartments. We noticed shortly after we arrived that one of the families had a goat in their back yard, whom, in a fit of brilliance, we named “Mr. Goatie.” He (it could be a she for all we know; we’re not good about these things) would stare at us with his mournful eyes. Sometimes he would raise himself on his hind legs and peer over the fence. Then after Rosh Hashana, we stopped seeing him. After a few days, a terrible thought crossed my mind: could these people have eaten him for Rosh Hashana? You may know that there is a custom amongst Sephardic and other Jews to have a Rosh Hashana seder, in which a blessing is made over various foods. One of the foods is a head, usually a fish head, but on occasion, a goat or sheep head. Could his head have graced their table? You may rest easy. Two days ago, he was back in the yard, none the worse for wear.
I have been chastised by some for making no mention of the well-being of our elderly cat, Mimi. Suffice to say, she survived the long journey to The Land and has made the acquaintance of Maale Adumim’s veterinarian for geriatric feline care.
The sun is still high in the sky, but it will soon be time for our last meal before Yom Kippur. On that note, I will end, as will the fast. Then it will be time enough to put up sukkahs in our wind-blown community. More about that later.