No, the weather outside is not frightful, nor are the sleigh bells jing-a-ling or the halls decked. But in Israel, we are nearing the end of the holiday season. With even more time off and more people celebrating than the typical Holiday Season in the US, we’ve had a lot of days where literally everything is closed. Not only are there a bunch of holidays, but almost everyone gets two days off for each one (since Jewish holidays go sundown to sundown, most businesses and schools give the full day of each off). Let’s take a look, shall we?
This is the Jewish New Year, and literally translates to “head of the year”. This is the happy one of the High Holy Days and everyone goes around saying “shana tova” (have a good year). Fun fact: if you say “L’shana tova” like we do in the US, you are laughed at by your Israeli boyfriend because that’s a strange American version of the saying. Adding the “L” before the word adds the English word “to”, which makes sense in English here, but not in Hebrew.
Anyway, not the point. It’s a happy holiday and you have sweet things for a sweet new year, like apples and honey or pomegranate seeds. Our office had a Rosh Hashanah toast with sweet wine and snacks. Elad’s family had a big dinner the first night (Erev Rosh Hashanah) that involved every sort of dish you could think of, and a big family lunch the next day that involved the rest of the dishes known to mankind. There was also some napping and TV-watching to celebrate. Over the weekend, we went on a gorgeous hike to Mt. Arbel overlooking the Kineret.
You know, the usual.
We also got the jackpot this year, because the two days of Rosh Hashanah were on a Wednesday and Thursday. The weekend in Israel is Friday and Saturday, so we totally scored a four-day weekend.
This is the bummer holiday of the two High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, you think about the sins you committed over the past year and fast to atone for them. You make some apologies and as soon as the sun sets you stuff your face because you’re really hungry.
I had a really unique experience this year, though. The night before the night before Yom Kippur (following me?), my program took us to Jerusalem to see the midnight Selichot, which lays the groundwork for your coming atonement. We didn’t get back until 4 AM, so the day before the holiday I spent lazily wandering the Tel Aviv shuk (market) with three of my friends from the program. The streets were already starting to get quiet before the holidays, so sellers were desperately trying to get rid of their products. I got three or four small cucumbers for a shekel (about thirty cents) and a pomegranate the size of my face with the juiciest seeds I’ve ever had for five shekels (about $1.75).
Look at those seeds. All from one pomegranate!
After our last meal that night, Elad and I changed into white shirts (white is the color of these holidays, since you get a new start with the new year) and walked to the main street of his town. Everyone walks the streets on Erev Yom Kippur wearing white to see friends and catch up. Absolutely no one drives on Yom Kippur, so you could walk down the middle of the street and there were plenty of kids riding bikes up and down. The whole thing very much reminded me of the Fourth of July fireworks in Deerfield.
Happy New Year!
The day of the holiday, you can’t do much of anything. Absolutely everything is closed and no one is driving. The cable company even cancelled VOD service (much to Elad’s and his mother’s annoyance). Elad’s mom does a puzzle every year because there isn’t much else to do. Elad and I watched a lot of TV and tried to distract ourselves. Friends of mine from the program posted photos of walking the empty streets and sitting in the middle of the empty highway. Elad’s friends got together to distract themselves, but I barely had the energy to sit up, let alone walk a few blocks to say hello.
After our carefully measured meal to not feel sick that evening, Elad and I went with his friend to Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar, where we gorged ourselves on a shake or hot chocolate each and shared the Chocolate Mess. It was a perfect idea at the time, perhaps not so much on reflection afterwards.
Om nom nom.
Sukkot remembers the time the Israelis spent wandering the desert by building a sukkah, or essentially a shack. The holiday itself lasts a week, with the first and last days commemorated by the usual two-day holiday. Most schools and places of business give the whole week off as well. Elad’s household celebrations consisted of delicious holiday meals, of course.
This week is prime time for festivals and travels throughout Israel. Our program used this time to take us on a three-day trip to the north. We went to several kibbutzim, including one right on the border with Lebanon where you could see villages more or less run by Hezbollah. We went on a few hikes, the highlight being swimming in a lovely pool in the middle of a canyon in the Golan Heights. We kayaked down the Jordan River, swam in the Kineret, went to an Arab-Israeli school, and had a solid amount of delicious food.
Look, Simba. Everything the light touches will be yours. (What about that shadowy part over there?) No, Simba, that’s Lebanon.
This is my mental image of “pool” now.
There are actually even more holidays around this time, with Simchat Torah coming up and the like. But over the last month we’ve had not only four holidays that give most people two days off, but also each normal Shabbat that is like that as well. I almost wish we could take the holidays and spread them out a little more. (I know, I can hear your tiny violin playing for me.)
I will say, it’s really nice to walk around and hear everyone saying “chag sameach” (happy holiday). It’s also cool to see my religion being the norm instead of the exception. You can hardly walk a block without seeing a sukkah. Back home, I think the only sukkah I ever saw was at my synagogue.
I return to the real world on Sunday when work starts up again, this time with no immediate holidays coming up. For now, though, I plan on continuing to enjoy the unexpected breaks.