Shana tova umetuka!
It has been over a month since Rosh Hashana, but I feel it isn’t too late to wish anyone a happy New Year, especially since this post is about my Rosh Hashana celebrations.
Rosh Hashanna came about a week after I landed in Israel. I was still getting over my jet lag as the New Year came. The strongest memory I have from the holiday is the scents that filled the air. I was in love with the wonderful smell of spices that came through the open windows immediately preceding a festival. You knew these homes were filled with people busy preparing to welcome guests and the New Year.
I was really excited to be in Israel for the New Year and just as excited that my first festival in Israel was still doubled. It gave me more time to participate with others both in shul and festive meals. I spent the first night of Rosh Hashana with my program adviser and her family (husband, sons, and mother-in-law). The second night was spent as one of many guests at the home of an older couple I met at the Masorti shul I had been attending. The couple are olim from Canada who have lived in Israel for about 35 years.
Both dinners were very nice and very different from each other. My adviser and her family are not very religious so blessings were made over the wine, bread, and new fruit but not in a very formal way. It was a great way to experience how culturally ingrained many celebrations are in the Jewish calendar. Everyone at the dinner, other than me, was related so the night had very little formality in both dinner and conversation. It was very nice to have a family dinner for the holiday. I have never experienced anything like that for any Jewish holiday so it was really welcoming and exciting to participate in the holiday as part of a family, and my adviser has definitely cared for me as if I were part of her family.
The second dinner was also very nice but much more formal. It had guests that were all close friends, other than me who was new, but it was held as a formal dinner party. The conversation consisted of more small talk and general formal exchanges between hosts and guests. Being from Texas, I am not use to formal anything so it was somewhat uncomfortable, but I did enjoy getting to celebrate the holiday within the community from the shul I had been attending. It was great to get an insight into how some people celebrate Rosh Hashana with friends, because the only way I have ever celebrated is through services at synagogue or having honey cake with non-Jewish friends.
I did go to synagogue for services. I went to the same Masorti synagogue where I had met my host for the second night of the holiday. The biggest differences between the services I would have experienced back in Texas and what I experienced at this small Masorti shul in Israel were that we barely made minyan on both the first and second day of Rosh Hashana and that people, including the prayer leader, were dressed in shorts and sandals. You could have easily moved us all to a beach and no one would have had to change, well except me who wore a dress and sweater. For those who didn’t know I was new, the dress certainly helped people know I wasn’t a regular. So did the blank, deer caught in headlight look that I gave anytime people spoke to me in Hebrew. I have certainly mastered this look.
All in all, it was a great holiday. I am glad that I was able to experience so many different dynamics of the holiday within Israel. I spent time celebrating with religious folks, non-religious folks, Israelis, Olim, families, and friends both within and outside of a syngogue. It was definitely a great way to start off the New Year and my time in Israel.
May 5773 come with many other sweet, new experiences.