Although the holidays are long past, its taken me this long to write about them (about a month and a half). Not so much because its time consuming, its just hard to process it all and figure out what I can take from it all. As I’ve said before, I am not Jewish, so all of these experiences were entirely new to me. Like the children, I had to ask why each holiday is celebrated, and look up the story behind it. The Kibbutz secretary, in his Rosh Hashanna speech, pointed out that the new year is one of the few celebrations in Judaism that are forward-looking. Most of the rest tell a story of how the Jews were persecuted and they over came (well, I added this last part).
The highlights of Rosh Hashanna included the special dinner followed by folk dancing, cake and a slide show. And the kite flying. Its a kibbutz tradition to make your own kites and then all get together and fly them during the holiday. It truly was wonderful, and fun, and delightful. I’m proud to say our kite flew – and it only took all of the grown men in our family to make it happen. The weather was perfect – not too hot, enough breeze, sunny (although its ALWAYS sunny here). And the camaraderie was really wonderful. People from all over the hill came, and talked and laughed together and enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards we all ate a picnic on the big lawn in front of the dining hall. Now the kite is taped to the kid’s ceiling (lest we have to fly it again).
Yom Kippur was kind of a let down after the fun and festivities of Rosh Hashanna (if you know enough about Judaism, thats funny). Since many people were fasting, dinner was small and quiet. There was a small kerfufle about doing the regular Friday night service or not. Every Friday my father in law writes and then produces a small service where he and some other people read some thoughts, poems, passages and sing some songs on a related theme. Nothing religious, but something to mark the start of Shabbat (or the sabbath). Yom Kippur fell on Friday this year, and my father-in-law dutifully prepared a program on Yom Kippur and the meaning of atonement. But, as many people fast on Yom Kippur (in accordance with the religion) some people thought it would be inappropriate to do the program. He brought the program to the dining hall anyway. We arrived right on time but people were already eating, and no one had waited for the regular program. At first my father-in-law seemed like he was going to try to do the program any way, but in the end he gracefully gave it up, and we had a quiet dinner.
This actually gets at the heart of something that I see as a constant tension here. Israel is, by definition, a religious state. The children study the Jewish bible in school, all the religious holidays are also state holidays, after sundown on Friday night you cannot purchase anything in a store until sundown on Saturday (although Tel Aviv, I’m told, is a little different). I kid you not. One Saturday I dropped my husband off at the airport and mentioned I was going to stop at the grocery store on the way home. His response was “I think there is a law, at least there used to be, that businesses can’t be open on Shabbat – except of course a few designated emergency facilities.”
But maybe only 50% of the people I spoke to fast on Yom Kippur. Not everyone here on the Kibutz is Jewish – I’ve heard rumors that a few people know where to get Christmas trees! And then again, when I took the kids to the pool on the eve of Rosh Hashanna – note, the pool was OPEN- the other kids asked my kids how they could POSSIBLY go to the pool on Rosh Hashanna. And on Yom Kippur, people felt it was inappropriate to read a Friday before-dinner program, even though it was about Yom Kippur!
Its a huge adjustment for me, as an American, to be required by the government to consider religion in my everyday life, but I see Israelis having the same struggles. Do you let your kids play and laugh outside when others are quietly observing the religious rites? How long before the religious part of the holiday starts do you have to be considerate of others’ preparations? If you move into a house with a mezuzzah (a religious Jewish symbol) on the door, but you are not Jewish, can you/should you take it off? We just left ours – its probably good karma.
Sukkot turned out to be a big holiday here. Its the Jewish holiday where you build a hut to remember the huts the Jews built when they were wandering in the dessert after they left Egypt. The preschool had a sukkah (a hut), the after-school child care had a sukkah, and the kibbuz set up a sukkah. And for each one various community members gathered to help set it up and decorate it and to eat a meal in it.
Amusingly my four year old kept confusing the word “sukkot” [huts] with “sucariot” [candy] (I transliterated both words, so pronounce them as they are written). So it went something like this “are we going to play in the candy today?” “we built a candy at preschool today”, “I carried the leaves for the top of the candy…”
The kids had most of the month of September off for the holidays. Now they are working through a long two-months with no days off, until Hanukkah. Me too.