This past weekend (now it has been more than a weekend ago) has been one of the most enlightening weekends of my life. Events that ranged from stores and transportation being closed from Wednesday evening to Saturday evening, finding my new "Israeli family", spending endless hours eating and getting to know them, more hours spent at the beach (because that is really the only thing we could do), being asked to participate in the Rosh Hashanah service, and to top it all off, getting pulled over by an Israeli cop.
This past Wednesday to Friday, and this coming Friday to Saturday, are the two most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. This past week was Rosh Hashanah, while next weekend will be Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, is known as the beginning of the New Year according to the Jewish calendar. The majority of the Jewish holidays are based off of historical events, but the high holidays (which these are known as) are not based off any specific event. During the ten day period between these holidays, you are given the chance to return to your true-self, and after a good year, be sealed into the book of life. All of your sins are forgiven between a person and another man, only by apologizing to them, and asking them for forgiveness. This is important to understand because one must gain the courage to face up to their wrong doings of the past year, and make them right. It is tougher to hold onto all the wrongs then letting them go and starting fresh.
These holidays can be considered similar to Easter and Christmas. Many people only go to Church on these holidays. The same is true for many Jews for the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I remember when I was younger, I would go to temple for services, and sitting through hours and hours of them. It is a lot harder to have your own personal opinion during these services, and really understand what is going on. Now that I am a lot older, and have my own views, and I really excited to experience these holy days in Israel.
Sunday the 21st started our preparation for the holidays. Raoul took us to the amphitheater looking over the Sea to have a talk with us. During this talk he mentioned the various symbols and traditions that are associated with both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Over the course of the next few days, I would participate in many of the traditions. First, Raoul gave us all a piece of paper to write to our future self. Trying my best to be all sophisticated and inspirational in my letter, I know when I receive it I will be a new person, and will be beginning the next chapter of my life. Afterwards, we headed to the Sea to participate in the ritual of throwing away your sins. We did this by throwing grains of sand (to symbolize our sins) into the Sea after reciting the pray of Tashlich. I remember doing this when I was younger with my family by this small pond, in my hometown. Sunday ended with a talk by the Reform Rabbi of Netanya. I have met Rabbi Nof previously when I was with Harriet, so it was good to see him again. Rabbi Nof did a talk on the shofar, and significance the shofar plays during the High Holidays.
On Monday and Tuesday (September 22nd and 23rd), was my first full day teaching. It was great to see the kids faces when they noticed that they will be learning English from Americans. Seeing how excited they were, reminded me on why I became a teacher. The kids are crazy, just like we were told, but they channel that craziness and excitement into learning.
Wednesday and Thursday were the two days of Rosh Hashanah. Walking around the city Wednesday afternoon, you could feel the electric atmosphere of the holiday season. The roads were crazy, and the Shuk was even crazier. I made my rounds picking up food, because I knew that I everything would be closed until Saturday. It ended up, I did not have to pick up all that food.
During any holiday, it is very common for someone to homesick because they are not with family. The thing is, I haven't celebrated these holidays, so I did not have any family traditions that I was missing. The majority of the fellows in Netanya have some family connections in Israel, so they would be spending the holiday with them. Others, were invited by teachers from their school for the festive Rosh Hashanah dinner. Others, including myself, were assigned a host family. This turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me. As I called up the father of the family (Raziel), he invited me out for a drink on Tuesday so we could talk and he could get to know me. After that drink, he invited me back to his home to watch some football (not American football). After spending Tuesday night with the family, I knew this was a special family. They made me feel right at home, and that is exactly what I wanted to find. A place I can now call my Israeli family.
On Wednesday, myself and a few other Fellows went to Rabbi Nof's reform temple for morning services. When we walked in, Rabbi Nof was so excited to see us. From when he first talked to us on Sunday, he said that his Shul is always open for us to attend services. Rabbi Nof even took his hospitably one step forward. He gave the four Fellows there the opportunity to open up the Ark where the Torah is kept during the service. He also then gave me the opportunity to carry the Torah around the synagogue, and even help dress it after it was read during the service.
That evening, Raziel's daughter picked up myself, and another Fellow Michelle to have dinner at their home. This was my first time having a traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner with all of the traditional customs, and then adding in some Yemen customs because that is where the family is from. Dinner was full of great conversation (both Hebrew and English), a lot of learning about the traditional dinner, and trying new and delicious food. I think I had everything that was on the table, no matter what it was. I believe I even had liver, and foot for the first time.
From dinner on Wednesday until Lunch on Saturday, I had a total of five meals at their house. Who knew that I would be so welcomed into this family. There is nothing better than a home-cooked meal (just because I don't know how to cook...just yet). It is such a great feeling of getting immersed into and true Israeli household. You learn so much about the country, and how much the citizens of this great country appreciate volunteers coming to make the country better.
After a month in Israel, nothing "unique" has happened yet, but that changed on that Saturday. We were getting picked up by family members and taken to the house because there was no public transportation due to the holidays. We had a meeting spot by a bus stop, so we could just jump in the car and go to the house. Every time we did this, we did not have a problem. On that Saturday, we were getting picked up for lunch, and we were standing by the bus stop, where there was also a hitchhiker standing up the road. In Israel hitchhiking is illegal. It just so happened, as we were getting picked up, there was a cop behind us. The bus stop is located in the middle of the road, so we hard to jump right in so we didn't block traffic. I guess the cop found this very suspicious, so he pulled us over. Getting pulled over in Israel, is not like getting pulled over in the States. Once he stopped the car, he immediately stepped out of the car and approached the cop. If that happened in the States you would immediately be arrested. I don't know exactly what happened because they were speaking in hebrew. I picked up a few words, especially when they were talking about "The Americans". Long story short, we had to get picked up by a family friend and taken to the house. As I am writing about it now, it does not even feel like it was a big deal, just a story I had to share.
To sum up my Rosh Hashanah experience in Israel in one word it would have to be comfort. I was blessed with a very welcoming host family, that treated me exactly like family. Having individuals that you feel comfortable around, especially when you are half way around the world is very important. Coming up next entry will be my Yom Kippur experience in the Old City of Jerusalem. Stay tuned for that!!!