Monday, October 6, 2014

A Good and Sweet New Year

I rarely get homesick. Whether living in Miami or living in Israel for 5 months (which I did in high school), I’ve always been able to stay in pretty high spirits. It’s not that I don’t miss my family and friends – I definitely do. But knowing that there is so much in store for me here keeps me excited and knowing that my friends are always a Facetime or iMessage away is comforting (I promise this post wasn’t sponsored by Apple).

That being said, there’s always something about the holidays that sparks a little homesickness within me.  Being away for the Jewish holidays is no exception. Knowing that Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot were all rapidly approaching, I started to miss my crazy and loud dinners with family and was nervous about what celebrating the holidays in Israel had in store for me.

Fanta reading "Happy Holidays"
I don’t really know why I concern myself with worries about the future here because time and time again Israel has pleasantly surprised me. When we sat with our host teacher and host principal for our very first meeting, they let us know that we would be joining the school staff at the end of September for slichot in Jerusalem.  Slichot, or penitential prayers, are said leading up to Rosh Hashanah in order to start the New Year fresh.  This year, I’d get the opportunity to do this at the Kotel/Western Wall.

We met on Sunday, September 21 at our school, where a charter bus took a group of 30 or so teachers and myself to Jerusalem. The drive took a little over an hour. Like I’ve mentioned before- all the teachers are so welcoming and have really made us feel as though we are family.  Our tour guide for the evening joined us on the bus and gave the group a little background on the idea of slichot and what the evening had in store for us. All of this was done in Hebrew though, so I just sort of sat there and smiled. But it seemed as though he was being very thorough and informative. Two thumbs up for him.

Jerusalem at Night 
When we arrived in Jerusalem, an instant sense of serenity besieged my body. That sounds corny, I know. I mean it though. The city of Jerusalem is so beautiful and the juxtaposition of old architecture with new culture is nothing short of breathtaking. We were given a bit of a tour around the old city and a little crash course on the history of Ashkenazi versus Sephardi ways of preparing for Rosh Hashanah. We even got to sit in a Sephardic synagogue in the Old City and hear a few prayers. Again, the tour was all done in Hebrew so there was lots of smiling and nodding on my behalf.   

Though I loved touring the Old City, I anxiously anticipated our visit to the Kotel. At about 11:30 PM (or 23:30 if we’re feeling Israeli) we made our way to the Western Wall. Now, I’ve visited the Kotel countless times, but on this night one thing became very clear to me. There is nothing quite like the Kotel at midnight on a day leading up to the high holidays. It was filled with people from all different ages and walks of life. I heard an array of different languages. There was no concept of personal space considering the billions of people there (rough estimate). And I loved every minute of it. It was a beautiful end to our evening in Jerusalem and something I will never forget. We headed back to little ol’ PTK at around 1:30 AM and got to take a short power nap before our next day of work.

An Incredibly Beautiful Moment Outside the Kotel
Erev Rosh Hashanah followed the Wednesday after our Jerusalem trip. As afore mentioned, my host teacher, Rosi, invited both my flatmate (another fellow at my school) and me to her home for dinner. Though I didn’t really know what to expect, I felt comfortable going to Rosi’s home because she has been so hospitable and kind thus far. She has even jokingly referred to my flatmate and me as her “children.” Rosi sent two of her sons to pick us up so we wouldn’t have to walk. The moment we arrived at her home I knew it was going to be an incredible evening.

A beautiful, appropriately decorated table for 20 or so people was set in her backyard. Rosi gave us a grand tour of her home and also let us know that if we ever wanted to stop by after school we were more than welcome to. It’s safe to say that Rosi is a saint. After meeting some family members and friends, we all sat for Rosh Hashanah Seder. It became very evident that this large Sephardic family was just as fun and loud as my very own - I felt right at home!  Jokes and good laughs were exchanged during the Seder, as well as multiple glasses of Tuborg - because what’s a Jewish holiday without copious amounts of alcohol?

 As we were about to sit for dinner, Rosi asked us if all of our flatmates had somewhere to be.  “Actually,” my flatmate Josh responded, “one of our roommates preferred to stay home this evening and not go anywhere.”

This answer displeased Rosi. A lot.

“What do you mean?! You have to go get him now! Call him and tell him one of my sons will come and pick him up.”

If you’re Persian, you’re extremely familiar with the idea of tarof. Kind of just saying something/offering something to get credit and not really expecting whoever is on the receiving end to take you up on your offer.

There was no tarof in Rosi’s offer. She was genuinely upset that my roommate had chosen to spend the holiday alone.

So Josh, Rosi’s son, and I got in a car and picked up our missing flatmate. Mid-dinner.

It was such a beautifully touching gesture. Tears welled up in my eyes because I was so overwhelmed with happiness and extremely moved by Rosi’s actions. When we returned to dinner, with our new addition, Rosi made sure to bring our flatmate different foods from the Seder that he missed as she went through and explained each of their significance.    

Fresh Dates, Challah, and Pomegranate Seeds Hold Significance in Seder
It was an incredibly beautiful evening. We drank, we ate, we laughed, and we learned from one another. Though I didn’t get to spend it with my family at home, I truly got to experience the next best thing. L’Shana Tova to those who celebrate, and may this year have only the best in store for you all.

Rosi's Moroccan Fish 
Safe to Say I Gained a Few Pounds Over Dinner

With the one and only Rosi

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