Generally, I'd wait til the next chag (Yom Kippur) to post something, as not to inundate you with the minutiae of my life, but I gotta tell ya, this past Rosh Hashana was chock full of tears, laughs and chavayot (experiences). If I had to sum in up in one phrase: I walked, I prayed, I ate. But since this is my blog, allow me to expound. This year, the 2 days of Rosh Hashana fed into shabbat, leaving observant Jews with essentially a "3-day chag." This means that we kept the general laws of shabbat (no electricity, no transportation) for 3 full days. This also meant that I had to find 6 kind souls to feed me six festive meals over the next 3 days and walk to each location, as buses weren't an option. I spent the weeks before the holiday asking (read: begging) for my supper, and made a schedule of all my meals. I knew the addresses, times to be there and what I was bringing for each meal. I was a lean, mean meal-mooching machine.
My first cousins (henceforth referred to as "the boys") have an apartment in the center of town. The importance of this apartment and the hospitality of the boys can not be stressed enough. There are 2 bedrooms, a living area (separated into dining/kitchen/living room) and a bathroom. My 3 cousins live in the bedrooms, leaving me a very comfortable couch to sleep on. Let's keep that in mind as we proceed. The first night, I ate a quiet meal with the boys. Nice and uneventful, we retired to the couches to eat candy (what else do young cousins do when no grown ups are around?) and I realized we were sitting on my bed. I also realized that while the lights were creating a lovely ambiance in the room, there were three lights on in the main room alone. And they would stay on through Saturday night! Which meant that I would be sleeping in a virtual state of midday light for 3 straight nights! No problem, I thought, I'm so tired I'll conk right out. Not so! Between my eyeball suffocation from the eye mask my cousin lent me to the non-existence of any breeze in a usually very breezy autumn Jerusalem, sleep was not my companion on night #1.
I woke up a bit tired, but mentally preparing myself for the long News Year's prayer service. Since I live in ulpan and don't have much family here, I attended services at the only synagogue I really knew of nearby. I worried that since I hadn't bought a seat, I'd be standing for a very, very long time. Not to worry! There were rows set up with no designated names on them so I chose a seat between 2 ladies who you could identify as Israeli even if you had never met an Israeli in your life. They oozed blue and white, if you will. Lots of bright nail polish, a hair coloring which was essentially a dark black with vibrant purple highlights and jewelry to match their hats and sandals. You know the type. One shot me a look whenever I shifted in my seat and the other offered me a hard candy during shofar, so it pretty much evened out.
Now to the services. You know those people who adore cantorial music? Can't get enough of an older man, resplendent in his white turban, belting out every word of every prayer? I am NOT one of those people. It's definitely a flaw, but give me a cantor who zips through the prayers at a respectable pace and I am a happy camper! This cantor may have been the best cantor in the whole world, but I was having none of it. I felt annoyed that what I thought was Rosh Hashana prayer services turned out to be a 5 hour cantorial concert. I will say, however, that Mrs. Hard Candy next to me was loving it. By contrast, the shofar blower was magnificent. Like, if that man has another job besides shofar blowing, he needs to quit, because he truly has a gift. Never have I heard such loud and sustained tekiot- his tekiah gedolah literally clocked in at 25 seconds! It's like Kenny G decided to convert to Judasim, move to Jerusalem and grace us with his skills. Magical.
Okay, now to lunch. This was the only meal where I was asked to contribute food so I made (read: my cousin made for me) rice and salad for the meal. This meant I had to carry this bounty from the center of town to Katamon- not far, but not optimal shlepping distance. I left shul a few minutes early to make sure to meet my friend on Jabotinsky and Balfour so we could walk to lunch together. I finally got there and he wasn't there! Oh wait- maybe it's because I walked to Tchernokovsky and Herzog! Grrrr. So there I was, making a U-turn, huffing and puffing up a huge hill in the beautiful (read: swealtering) Jerusalem sunshine, rice and salad bags making my biceps burn. Finally, I find the meeting point and my friend is nowhere to be found! You might remember, there is no technology during the holiday, so I couldn't exactly call him! So I sit, a pathetic-looking immigrant girl, until fellow Anglos see me, give me exact directions to my lunch location, and I find the apartment. My friend wanders in minutes later, explaining that he left the meeting point just moments before I got there. I failed to see any humor because I was sweating and starving so then I had some white wine and the misunderstanding magically became much, much funnier!
Dinner that night was so lovely and at a very close friend just a stone's throw from the apartment where I was staying. It also marked the first of the 4 meals I had lined up at chareidi (ultra Orthodox) families. I will say this, regardless of your opinion on the hareidi community, the food is delicious and super-duper kosher! Unfortunately, after 2 huge meals, I wasn't that hungry and couldn't eat all the food I wanted to. First world problems, am I right? After another fitful night in the brightest room in Jerusalem, and a repeat concert by the cantor par excellance and his amazing shofar blowing accompanist, I took the long walk to Ma'alot Dafna.
To get to that area (where I had set up my dinner meal too- pretty smart, huh?) you have to pass through Meah Shearim (ultra-ultra Orthodox) and similar areas, so by the time I had reached my destination, I passed more streimels, black stockings and payot than you can possibly imagine. After another fantastic meal, I took a nap in my friend's spare room and made the short walk to dinner. Once there, I told my hostess about my whole "sleeping on a lightbulb" issue. She suggested I stay at her place. "Do you mind sleeping in my boys room?" Not at all! "Then it's settled." Five minutes later "oh, it's cool that you're on the top bunk right?" Couldn't be more excited to literally bunk up with these little boys. After possibly the best night of sleep ever, I made my way to my last meal- shabbat lunch.
I was eating at my cousins in Mattersdorf. If you have never been there, allow me to paint you a picture. There are a bunch of neighborhoods close to the central bus station that are super- ultra- Orthodox/Hasidic. They have different names, but the basic rules apply throughout. It's the type of place where 5 year olds take care of their 3 year old siblings, gates keep out cars on shabbat, Yiddish is spoken as frequently as Hebrew and clothing in the color baby blue is considered provocative. Walking there, I read the posted signs (one of my faves: "Daddy, save me from the Internet and iPhones"- emblazoned above a crying baby.) Let it be known, I am cool with these residents putting whatever signs they want in their neighborhoods. I may not agree with them, but if that's what they believe- power to them. My cousins are this kind of religious, but so warm and accepting and, well, cool, that I never feel the least bit weird in their home. I did get lost on the way over, when my shortcut turned into an impromptu hike up a trash-filled dirt path with the icing on the cake being hopping over a low fence, but it was worth it. I had a delicious meal with my cousins and their nine (k"h) children, and took my final long walk back home with a belly full of chulent and a smile on my face.
I waited for the end of chag at the apartment with the boys and congratulated myself on my first holiday in Israel as an Israeli. It may not have been relaxed or simple, but it was exciting and special, and that's kind of the perfect memory for my first one here.