Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 1 of 2)

6 10 2013

My second month in Israel was one of joyful celebration.  By the end of August, I had established a community and a life for myself in Jerusalem.  By the end of September, I had solidified friendships and participated in the most vibrant high holiday season of my life.

My new favorite holiday is the seven-day festival of Sukkot, the only occasion in the Bible where the Jewish people are repeatedly commanded to be happy. And boy do folks in Jerusalem take that command seriously! There were concerts, elaborate feasts, parades and impromptu merriments throughout the city (and country!) all week. Friends spent much of their time dwelling in outdoor huts (sukkahs) and the city was one giant open house as friends and strangers alike hopped from sukkah to sukkah, singing, eating and welcoming guests.

Beautiful Hospitality at the Home of Sarah Yehudit - Our Coziest Succah!

Beautiful Hospitality at the Home of Sarah Yehudit – Our Coziest Succah!

Fun fact:  Sukkot is actually a time of celebration for all the nations of the world, and thousands of pilgrims came to Jerusalem for the holiday and for a special prayer called the Birkat HaKohanim.  Along with all of those traveling visitors were my dear friends from Riverdale, Shira and Ari, and seeing them was such a treat!

Birkat HaKohanim is the blessing that the priests of Israel bestow upon the nation and is one of our older traditions as a people.  My family gathered, along with dear friends David and Viktoria, at the Aish HaTorah balcony overlooking the Western Wall for a beautiful service, reception (with Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau) and performance by the Miami Boys Choir (whose music I grew up on).  It was a perfect morning, followed by sukkah-hopping around the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

Overlooking the Western Wall for Birkat HaKohanim & The Gathering of the Nation

Overlooking the Western Wall for Birkat HaKohanim & The Gathering of the Nation

The Family at Birkat HaKohanim, Sans Rachael

The Family at Birkat HaKohanim, Sans Rachael

It was a very “filling” season, and – even more so than usual – I was keeping my eyes open for opportunities to help others.  The perfect opportunity arose when I saw a new neighbor shlepping his suitcases up the stairs of my building.  Just like someone ran out to help me on my first day, I dropped my things to help this new neighbor, which quickly turned into adopting his whole family for the evening, bringing them over to David’s house for havdallah, touring them around the neighborhood the following week and sparing them from standing in the rain until their landlord met them later that night.  (They flew into the country on Shabbat, so everything was shut down and the landlord was only reachable following sunset.) They’re a sweet family, and I look forward to seeing them again upon my return to Israel this winter.

One of the best parts of my time in Israel was my work with Bat Melech.  I spent time with the women, performed strategic work in the office and hosted visiting philanthropic groups.  I felt really appreciated by the director and it felt damn good to do solid work that only my particular skillset could tackle.

Mischief at Work: The Sign Says "Men's Bathroom", But I Didn't Want to Shlep to the Other Side of the Building, So I Tacked On "& Staff" With Smiley Faces

Mischief at Work: The Sign Says “Men’s Bathroom”, But I Didn’t Want to Shlep to the Other Side of the Building, So I Tacked On “& Staff” With a Smiley Face

There is a lot of work that needs to be done, both for Bat Melech and for so many other good causes in the country.  I try to keep in mind the saying from Ethics of Our Fathers:  Lo Alecha Ham’lacha Ligmor, V’lo Ata Ben Chorin L’hivatel Mimena – “It is not your duty to complete all the work, but neither are you free to refrain from it.”  It’s a powerful idea to just start and do your portion with the knowledge that – bit by bit – a positive difference will be made.

On my second to last day in the office, the kids at the shelter wowed me with an incredible surprise birthday party.  I had no idea that it was coming, but they turned the lights off, hid behind the table and sang me HaYom Yom Huledet before presenting me with cards, a chocolate cake (mmm…) and my very own paper crown emblazoned with the number 28.  Just when I thought the party was over, the group sat me down in a chair and the children and teenage counselors lifted me up in the air ten times in celebration. Wow. What a night!

Birthday Chulent! With Jamie, Who Is Donning My Birthday Crown :-)

Birthday Chulent! With Jamie, Who Is Donning My Birthday Crown 🙂

I promised the kids that I would leave the crown on, and proudly wore it on the bus ride home, through the streets of the shuk and to a birthday dinner with my Mom and sister at Te’enim, a stellar veggie restaurant overlooking the walls of the Old City.

Mom, Jess and Me Celebrating My Hebrew Birthday at Te'enim

Mom, Jess and Me Celebrating My Hebrew Birthday at Te’enim

Continue reading “Holidays in the Holy Land (Part 2 of 2)“…

posted by ayo

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