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Jewish Journal

So what is the Jewish Holiday season like here in Israel?

by Noga Gur-Arieh

September 18, 2013 | 1:53 pm

Israel- a Jewish and Democratic state. Most of the year, this definition is complicated and disrupting, but during a few weeks every year – it is beautifully simple and unifying. It happens during the Hebrew month of Tishrei, when we mention Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.  In this month, Israel turns into a beautiful vision of brotherhood, as the Jewish citizens of Israel put their differences aside, and celebrate together.

 

In the States, maintaining a Jewish lifestyle is nothing to be taken for granted, especially during this time of year. You must work hard to surround yourself with holiday customs and habits, as there are more open non-kosher restaurants than closed Kosher ones, and more backyards without a Sukkah than ones with one. Here, in Israel, it is nothing like that. The entire land, from north to south, is dedicated to Jewish customs, and during the month of Tishrei, more than any other time, it is impossible to overlook. It is as if a magic spell was cast on Israel, spreading festivity on every street, coloring the land in pure white, nurturing us with joy.

 

It doesn't matter where you are on the religion scale - secular, religious, ultra-orthodox, reform – during the month of Tishrei, everyone is simply Jewish. All intolerance and disrespect between us dissolve, and is replaced with a feeling of family warmth. The people themselves seem to be less angry and anxious. It's almost as if we live in a Disney movie. The usually rude, easily triggered Israelis seem to forget their stereotypes, and appreciate their friends, family, neighbors and strangers more than the usual.

 

Not everybody celebrates the same way, and not everyone is strict on the customs, but on Erev Hag (the holiday eve,) the streets are packed with people, shopping, making last minute purchases of traditional food supplies, of festive clothes, or presents for the hosts. Everyone is smiling, for we all understand each other, sharing the same holiday excitement and getting ready to spend a long anticipated family quality time.

 

At around 6pm in Rosh Hashannah and Sukkot eves, the roads of Israel are sparkling with light. Although it is the headlights of thousands of cars crawling in traffic on their way to the hosting relative, almost no one is honking or yelling or cursing. Families, all dressed up, are sitting in their cars, barely moving, and enjoying the best of the Israeli music playing on the radio. Even the worst of traffic jams would not ruin the optimism in the air. For about a month, there is almost no bad news. The newspapers are filled with special holiday interviews and very optimistic summaries of the year.  It is almost as if all that's wrong in the world fades away.

 

The highlight of Tishrei is Yom Kippur. It is where the togetherness, the feeling of shared experience, is at its peak. On that day, the synagogues are packed, as even non-religious people feel a bit closer to God. After dinner, when the fast begins, the streets are gradually being colored in white as people leave their houses, and go out to the streets to meet with their neighbors.   Some then go straight to temple, some stay and talk with their friends, sometimes until dawn. Since no cars are allowed to drive on that day, the silence and the clear air are being emphasized, empowering the pure atmosphere of that day. Not all people fast on Yom Kippur, but out on the street, everyone respects those who do, and there are no food or beverages plain in sight.

 

This month is one of the biggest collective experiences of the Jewish community in Israel. Moreover, it is the time when we put our own problems aside and open our wallets and our hearts for the ones in need, in order for them to have a decent holiday dinner as well. This, to me, is simply beautiful, and Israel at its best.

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