Once again, we have the blessing of being in Israel for the fall holydays. While we love America and feel endless gratitude towards her, as Jews, we are a minority within her culture. (Personally, we wish we felt like more of a minority and would like to see a reawakening of America’s Christian nature.) Not so in Israel, where a holiday atmosphere reigns in September, not December, and where the secular looking taxi driver regales us with stories of his Yom Kipur/Day of Atonement fast.
One of our favorite activities in Israel is taking the bus. Sometimes, we take a roundabout route so that we can see different neighborhoods. Israeli bus drivers are fearless cowboys. They drive aggressively and quickly through narrow streets and around sharp curves. We refrain from bursting into applause, though their performance frequently deserves it.
Israeli buses host a cacophony of different languages, and people from almost every country on earth. Their external dress reveals a gamut of geographical origins and religious affiliation. Nonetheless, the resonant feeling is of being on a road trip with extended family. This can be sometimes annoying but is also comforting. An elderly Yemenite grandmother with her grandchild in a stroller will tell (not ask) a Russian teenager to hold onto the stroller while she goes to check with the driver about where to disembark. A mother boarding with an infant will plop the infant onto an Israeli-Ethiopian soldier’s lap while she rummages for her bus card in her purse.
Once off the bus, the inter-relationships among people persists. To the sometimes discomfort of many American immigrants, children are seen as a national treasure and responsibility. Mothers are assaulted by strangers telling them that their babies are dressed too warmly or not warmly enough. It is not unusual to stand at a corner, getting ready to cross a major intersection, and find a young five or six-year-old tuck her hand into yours, confident that you will help her cross safely. No words are exchanged as she lets go of your hand at the other side, continuing on her way to her destination. Helicopter parenting is not an Israeli affliction.
While America is moving in the direction of being a country based on fear in general and fear of lawsuits in particular, Israel, for both good and bad, is a country of adventure and bravado. Consequently, it suffers from a high rate of car accidents, causing great sorrow, but it also assumes the people should bear responsibility for themselves. While Americans can’t market a balloon without warning that it can cause harm if swallowed (and if swallowed, there still will be a lawsuit) Jerusalem runs its light rail down a busy pedestrian street, with no guardrails, warning signs, or irritating announcement that a train is coming so you should move to the side. Instead the driver beeps a slightly louder horn than the one you had on your childhood bicycle as he doesn’t slow down a whit, expecting people to move out of his way in time not to get hit. They do.
When we are in Israel, Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement, is one of my favorite holy days. While I have only prayed in a few synagogues in America on that fast day, I always found the day draining, if meaningful. I certainly cast more than one look at my watch through the day counting down the hours until I could eat and drink (25 hours fast in total). My Israel experiences have been entirely different. It starts, as in America, with the solemn Kol Nidrei prayer at night. Yet, the next day, as the day moves along from morning to afternoon to sunset, a joyous festive mood captures the congregation. One senses a feeling that having undergone the process of atonement for the past forty days, as the day moves along people are confident in God’s mercy and forgiveness. The closing prayers are joyous as hands clap and feet dance. If someone ran in and said that the clocks were all wrong and there was another hour to go, I might be thirsty and hungry, but I would be grateful for the extra time.
We are now moving into the next set of holy days, known as Sukot or Tabernacles, but also as ‘The Time of Our Rejoicing’. Sukot (booths used for the holydays) are popping up on every porch and corner. I pray that this coming year brings rejoicing to all of us and also brings God’s rejoicing in His children as everyone alive today has the opportunity to reject the false gods so prevalent among us and embrace Him.
With holy days popping up, our offices and store are open/shut, open/shut. We’re trying to make this less irritating by offering specials while we’re open. This week: