Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jews and Their Huts

             So the holidays are finally over. From Rosh Hashana into Yom Kipuur with the monster that is Sukkot/Simchat Torah at the end? As they say: The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. (I will now insert a picture of myself running a half marathon because I did it pre-blog and I want you to all know about my single-largest physical accomplishment to date:)
Back to business. Since this was my first long holiday here, without much family, I was slightly overwhelmed but obviously excited for the challenge. How to fill 2 ulpan- free weeks with what I lovingly refer to as "chavayot" or "experiences?" (Locked out of my room at 2 AM? Chavaya! Stuck in Haifa for the day? Chavaya! Fourteen days of holiday ahead? Chavaya!) Basically, chavaya is the new YOLO. So the tasks were: find kind people to host me for meals, find fun activities for the intermediate days of chag an basically experience as much of a Jerusalem Sukkot as humanly possible. In order to organize my thoughts I will break this down day by day, so bear with me and I will make you giggle. 
             Even before the holiday, Jerusalem was abuzz with excitement. Formula Racing was brought to Jerusalem, and for 2 days, we saw fancy cars, famous race-car drivers and general motor revelry. There were huge crowds which meant major traffic but also a very big cool- boost for the holy city. 

           My home base for the chag was at "the Boys' apartment", as it often is. As you may recall from  my Rosh Hashana post, my bed is the couch, which while comfortable has it's problems. The most major of which is the fact that when the lights are on at night, it is much like sleeping on the sun in July.  This issue was mostly alleviated by shutting most of the lights off. That's basically all that was needed to  make this chag one of improved sleeping for all involved (read: me.)  Kudos to the boys for putting up with me, my incessant talking, my scattered accessories and my eating all available gummies. I can never repay your hospitality!
           A huge difference between holidays in Israel and abroad is that the holiday part (no lights, cellphones, driving, tv, etc) is 2 days everywhere outside of Israel and 1 day within Israel. This may not seem like a huge difference, but when holidays fall out on Thursday and Friday (like they did this year), they then feed into Shabbat. And that makes it what we lovingly refer to as a "3-day yomtov" and that, my friends, is a long time to refrain from interaction with the outside world. Plus, you know, my makeup won't last 3 whole days so there's that. Since Rosh Hashana is 2 days in Israel, this was to be my first 1- day chag ever! I cannot stress how major this event was. I was stoked, and I only had to find 2 meals for chag, so yalla! I had a lovely first days here in Jerusalem. There is nothing like walking around the city and seeing thousands of sukkot (temporary huts where Jews eat and often sleep for all of Sukkot) of every shape and size! Hanging off roofs and balconies, in all the restaurants and hotels, little huts decorated and lovingly built as if to say," Welcome to our Jewish home!" As Jewish as New York City is, the sight of a sukka anywhere besides outside of a private home is cause for celebration amongst the observant and confusion for everyone else. How many times did I have to tell my professors, "Yes, Sukkot is a real holiday. No, I don't know why you've never heard of it. No, I really can't make the test that day." Now I live in a country where most people don't work during the whole week of Sukkot! (To speak not of Israeli productivity, at least it speaks to our Jewishness!) It brought a permanent, week- long smile to my face to see Jerusalem festooned in Sukkot's finest. 
             Before you knew it, it was the intermediate days of chag- yay! All of Jerusalem really got rocking- singing and dancing in the streets and tons and tons of people! And not just any people, lots of American people! Something I knew well as a New Yorker is that Israel is the hot spot during this holiday. It was basically like walking down Central Avenue or Main Street some days, which I loved and hated all at the same time. While I adore my hometown Jews, I have kind have gotten used to being here in Jerusalem with my fellow Jerusalemites. This influx of everyone I grew up with was... overwhelming. I got a lot of questions like "So, how long are you here for?" and comments like "Oh, you made aliyah? That's... nice." I felt like I was explaining to people why I decided to walk barefoot on hot coals, rather than move to the Jewish homeland. But to be fair, I love explaining why I moved here- I like to believe it makes people more open-minded to aliyah and strengthens within myself my own resolve in living here. So I just generally smile and say, "I moved here for 24- hour falafel on- demand!"
          The intermediary days are called Chol Hamoed and there is generally so much to do here, it's nuts. I haven't mentioned it yet, but I have a little side job here whilst in ulpan. I assist the best event planner in Israel. This is not hyperbole- Adena Mark is talented, organized and pretty much the coolest chick I know. She lets me help her plan and execute some of the most gorgeous events I've ever seen- and on chol hamoed we had a big one! A cutie pie from Engelwood, NJ was having a bat mitzvah in Israel, and we planned a shabby- chic garden party for her big day. I was there to assist and honestly, I worked like a (cute and friendly) dog! From 9 AM until past midnight I decorated, set up, and basically schlepped non-stop! By the end of the day, I was so sore but super proud of the magificent event I had helped execute. Can't wait for the next one!

             The next day, by the grace of G-d, I woke up, ready to go to the Moshav! What Moshav, you ask? There was a music and arts festival in Mevo Modiin also known as "the Carlebach Moshav." Imagine hundreds, if not thousands, of Jewish hippies, congregating in their mutual love for guitar- jamming, tie-dye and hemp. Then imagine me, doing my best impression of a Jewish hippie, essentially just wearing a colorful headband. Hey, I tried. I went with my good friend Daniella, her baby Sarah and my visiting friend, Hindy. Good group of chicks and a fabulous day, even though I never got my face painted like a fairy, as I had planned. Next time. 

              The next day I had a delicious brunch with another visiting firend and got to show him all the cool things Jerusalem has going on these days. I often worry I've really missed my calling as a tour guide, although how many people want tours of restaurants and shopping pavilions, I'm not so sure. 
               Before you knew it, it was the last day(s) of the holiday! Again, it was a major adjustment to go from a lifetime full of 2-day holidays to Simchat Torah being over that quickly, but I made it work! I went to the Western Wall to watch the dancing, and there I met a delightful, non-Jewish Dutch couple who were fascinated by the celebrations at the Wall and wanted to know all about the holiday. Seeing as how I hate talking about Judaism (hahaha!) they let me talk to my heart's content about our rituals and songs. I then headed to a fantastic meal with close friends from my Queens neighborhood, where I shared a meal with children whom I used to babysit and are now young adults! Weird. After that, I went to a party a new friend was throwing- by myself! As ulpan is ending shortly and my "real life" in Jerusalem will ostensibly be starting, I figure I need to man up and start meeting fellow Jerusalemites with whom I might soon socialize regularly. Luckily, I met some really great people at the party and reunited with some people I already knew, until the party was unceremoniously shut down a little past 12 by angry neighbors. Bummer, huh? 
               The next day I had the honor of taking one of my oldest friends, Leora, out for lunch. Leora was visiting for chag and I randomly bumped into her at an earlier lunch. Since she was keeping 2 days of chag, I decided it would be cute to pick her up and then take her to lunch and the shuk. Since she couldn't use money, I treated her ! And since I am an unemployed and poor Israeli, that was a real throwback to my days of being a rich, visiting American! Good times!
               Before you knew it, chag was over, the Americans boarded their overcrowded planes back to JFK and I was back to the magical world of Hebrew- language learning! And while it was wonderful to have that respite from ulpan, I'm pretty excited to be back here and heading into the home stretch of my time at ulpan. Coming up: adventures in job- and apartment- hunting! Help!

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