Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Different Kind of New Year

Every time I take the Greyhound back home to Suffern, I can't help but turn to marvel at the New York skyline. It's a little ritual I have, and when it's over I can close my eyes and nap those fifty minutes to home away. This Wednesday I took a similar journey home to family for the New Year. Only this time when I took in my automatic sweep of the skyline, I was greeted by a very different view. The soft, rocky hills of Jerusalem swept by me and far-eastern music twanged from the radio. I chuckled to myself as I closed my eyes for my fifty-minute journey from Jerusalem. I wasn't in Kansas anymore, or the Tri-State Area for that matter.

This year was the first Rosh Hashana in my life that I didn't go to Temple. I didn't see my Daddy walk up to the bima in his bright white robe, nodding greetings as he went. I didn't see him raise his arms in the ancient sign of the high priest, the fabric of his sleeves gently swaying in a low arc as he invoked his blessing for a sweet new year upon his congregation. Nor did I hear the pure, thrilling notes of Avinu Malkeinu as we stood before our great, high arc (I did listen to Barbara Streisand's version later on my iTunes, downloaded expressly for this occasion).

What I did do was rejoice.

Dates for peace and prosperity
Apples, honey, and pomegranate for sweetness
Fish-heads for abundance
The prayer I received
My Uncle Nahum and Aunt Dvora know how to serve a feast, but what is even more unique than their ever-delicately simmered carrots or chicken thighs dripping with juice are their delightfully clever and unique twists on minhag. It's always enlightening, always full of laughter, and always interactive. Before sitting down we were each instructed to choose a note from a tray. Each note had a cute little magnet and a symbol that corresponded with a prayer. We were all to go around and when instructed, read our prayer, and then in turn take a delicious taste of whatever bowl of food went with it. So we took our turns reading, discussing, and eating all the different wishes for this upcoming year. We had glistening pomegranate seeds and sweet onion shards sizzled to perfection. We sampled foamy and pungent fruits of the palm and downed different varieties of apples soaked in syrupy honey. As the sampling feast progressed we debated the meaning of each symbol, laughed at the answers, contemplated the implications for our year, and mostly expanded our bellies. My prayer came at the end and after a brief fit of anxiety at reading it aloud to all-native Hebrew speakers, my moment passed and we realized just how fitting it was that I happened to choose the ram's head: my blessing was that you should "think with your head, not with your tail," in other words, be a leader, not a follower. I was very touched by their assessment of my choice for this year. (Explanations taken from Beliefnet)

My Saba giving his speech
 The next day came another new beginning as I joined my Saba for a celebration on the kibbutz. Tables and chairs had been set up on the patio beneath the chader ochel, the community dining room that had been the centerpiece of kibbutz life for so long. As one of the founders of the kibbutz, he had been asked to greet the community in a short message for the new year. We sat together, my Saba and I, with Ofri, his granddaughter (my cousin) and Noam and Amit, his great-granddaughters. Four generations watched on as he spoke about his hopes for the future. After, we sat beneath towering palm trees and beside a calm pool of Japanese fish as we watched two Hassidic men, with their long fuzzy beards, black hats, and long suits complete the mitzvah of sounding the shofar. There they stood, hunched over their prayer book, checking to make sure they were reciting in exactly the correct order, exactly the right amount of sounds, surrounded by a community full of mostly atheists. In anticipation, I leaned down to my 6-year-old cousin, Amit, and whispered that a special moment is about to come: the tekiah gedola! We stood, holding hands, eyes glued to our bearded friends. Now, I am used to years of clear, pure, impressive tekiahs, especially in the form of the the "tekiah gedola" contest on the bima, which usually results in timekeeping and gasps (my brother beats them all with a record of more than a minute straight). So naturally I was disappointed when all I heard was what I could only describe as a car sputtering over and over, about to die.
To hear how it should sound, click here

That night at one in the morning, I flew across the ocean via the wonders of Skype to join my American family for their Rosh Hashanah feast.  After five minutes of technical difficulties (during which I sat through a hilarious interlude of silent movie faces waving and kissing from all directions), my cousin Leah walked me around her New Jersey living room to say hi to the family. We spun around in dizzying circles as I sent my new year's wishes through the computer screen. Then, they set me down for my most unique holiday experience yet: watching from above on a laptop computer while reciting the prayers, watching my closest relatives sip the wine, eat the round challah, dip their apples into honey so far away, yet so near. I sat on my bed in Saba's office, tucked beneath his ancient, old, crooked shelf of books, smelling my Savta's roses through the window, and thinking how lucky I am on BOTH sides of the ocean.

Joining the family for dinner in Jersey!
Talking to Imaleh
Uncle Bobby waving hello

My perch on top of the cabinet

My brother Alon making up for the horrid shofar playing we had heard by playing his rendition of Eli Eli for me and Saba. Then he played a 26 second Tekiah Gedolah!

1 comment:

  1. What a vivid description of your holiday, Sivanne. I felt like I was both in Israel and at Bobby's - your writing made it alive!