There's No Place Like Home
The airport is not the only aspect of experiencing Israel which is uniquely different than any other country. Hoshana Raba arrived on Wednesday, only two days after our arrival. Not a single davener was in a hurry to leave for work and accepted the extended hakafot as if it was their primary mission of the day. Contrast that to the hustle (and hassle) of rushing off to work in the “States” after the prolonged morning (Shacharit) service, worrying whether one’s boss would understand or even appreciate why we would be late for work. Indeed, how does one explain to a gentile the peculiar sight of dozens of men walking in circles with palm, myrtle and willow braches and a large citron in hand, repeating Hebrew words after the leader? And…to top that, the final stage is thrashing a set of willow branches on the floor. Not here. Here in Israel, the Jewish calendar is the center of life and determines one’s daily mission. It is likely one’s boss is doing the very same thing. Where else but in Israel?
Then Shmini Atzeret came on Thursday. Israelis observe one day of chag, and Shimini Atzeret is also Simchat Torah here. Since we arrived during chol hamoed, after observing the first two days in the States, there was no opinion I could rely on to observe one day of Shmini Atzeret. So……We had two Simchat Torah celebrations. So I danced two nights and two days, bid at two auctions for “honors” to support two synagogues, and felt, simultaneously doubly joyous and tired. Fortunately, one of the synagogues here allowed a bunch of (about 30) visitors to hold a “chutz la’aretz” (outside Israel) minyan on Friday. Where else but in Israel can one observe two days of Simchat Torah?
Perhaps the most profoundly exceptional experience was a rather supernatural occurrence – a top 10 for “where else but in Israel:” On Shmini Atzeret we prayed for rain and wind. Well, the wind came first. There was virtually no wind until about 4 or 5 AM Friday morning – but suddenly, enormously powerful wind gusts woke us up. Wind gusts blew off the schoch of many Sukkahs – sort of a message from Hashem that the holidays are over and we need to get on with our lives – time to take down our Sukkas. There was no significant wind after that episode….even days later. Friday was the first possible day to begin taking down our Sukkas. Where else but in Israel will Hashem send a message that is so clearly understood?
I started my Ulpan at the community center and Edie started her seminary program at Nishmat on Sunday. Learning Hebrew is virtually free for new immigrants and NIS 500/month for me (about $135). Learning Hebrew is a 5 day/week, 4 ¼ hour per day commitment. Let’s hope my Hebrew will advance somewhat by the time we return in January. The Ulpan is indeed a multicultural experience. While most students are from The USA, the class is eclectic with Ecuador, France, South Africa, Russia and England also represented. We are immersed in Hebrew but learning a language is difficult when one lives in a community in which English is a major language and on Shabbat, the standard greeting is precisely what one would expect to hear in Atlanta: Good Shabbos (and not Shabbat Shalom)!
As I write this journal, I am sitting in the section of our kitchen which is adjacent to our garden –we have a first floor flat with a wonderful garden in front and a large meerpesset (balcony) in the rear (we live on a hill, so the front is street level and the back is second floor). As I put pen to paper, the sweet-scented odors of our and adjacent gardens permeate the air with Jasmine, Hibiscus and other varieties of native blooms. Here, flowers bloom all year long; each in its own season.