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There were a lot of things I had to get used to when I first came to this country - milk in bags, air conditioning as a rarity, signs in Hebrew... and religious Jews driving on second day yom tov.
I first came to Israel just before the High Holy Days eight years ago, a seminary student dealing with severe culture shock. While Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were fairly normal, Succot involved lunch with a very sweet French family whom I'd never met before, but who were the only people in my building keeping two days hag (holiday), and on Simhat Torah, a man with a kippa wished me hag sameah from his car. There was also live music playing in the middle of the haredi neighborhood where I went for second hakafot.
Like I said, culture shock.
The second day of Pessah that year was also odd, though that was mostly because I fell asleep and showed up at my hosts' home in a panic at 2 a.m., where they were just cleaning up from the second Seder I was supposed to have joined. Fortunately, they not only gave me an impromptu Seder, but invited me back for lunch the next day.
Their neighbors did their laundry while I ate.
Still later that day (a Friday), when I arrived at my Israeli-American Shabbat hosts, I was keenly aware of being the only one there who hadn't showered for two days.
It's a pretty surreal feeling. On the one hand, you know that neither you nor the Orthodox Israelis around you are doing anything wrong; on the other hand, you get the sense that either they're breaking hag or you've gotten your days mixed up.
The whole concept of second-day yom tov began because of a less-than-ideal situation. When the Temple was still intact, the Jewish people determined the dates of holidays according to a relay system of witnessing the new moon. Jews who lived outside Israel often received the information late, and would therefore need to base their holidays on the dates of the previous month. To be on the safe side, Jews in the Diaspora were instructed to keep an extra day, and this practice has continued into the present.
I admit, I'm glad I've made the transition to the one-day crowd. As a mithazeket (someone who grew up moderately religious and increased their halachic observance), I'm used to being the frummest member of a group - the one who double-checks the kosher certification and doesn't wear shirts with sleeves above the elbow. But it's a different feeling entirely when you're frummer than your rabbi, who's flipping light switches and making phone calls while you're making kiddush.
And it's hard to keep that relaxed holiday mood when your hosts are partying, working, or shutting off the lights.
I'm not alone in this opinion. Miriam Roche, who now lives in Jerusalem, recounts a two-day Succot spent "watching TV and eating pizza that my cousins microwaved for me. It's really weird. I only did it once in my life, and it felt unfulfilling," she says. "It doesn't give you any of the spirituality of hag ... but you also don't get to have a normal day."
And of course, there's the hametz you have to deal with when Pessah is out for your Israeli roommates but not for you, and the searching for yom tov meals at families with relatives in from abroad - although you can often find Israeli families who invite second-day-keepers out of the goodness of their hearts.
Several years ago, I joined my brothers at the home of a childless couple who had a policy of making a second Seder for out-of-towners, even though they themselves held only one. They not only contributed food, encouragement and words of Torah, but sat with us through the whole affair, which ended at about 2 a.m.
My friend Yael Kanner, meanwhile, tells me how her sister Jackie stayed with her for Pessah and got an unexpected welcome when she came back from her eighth-day meal.
"I had already turned over the house [to hametz] after Pessah," says Yael, "but the woman Jackie had gone to for her meals was really sweet and had made her these snacks so she would have something to eat - and I confiscated them because I was eight months pregnant and hungry."
Fortunately, Jackie stood up for her rights. "She shouted, 'Yael, those are my Pessah snacks!'" Yael says. "Then I felt bad because she had nothing to eat, so I let her have them."
And sometimes, your friends abandon you for Hol Hamoed activities. Chana Englander, who came for Pessah in 2005, relates that she stayed in a friend's apartment trying to read while her friend went off to a full-day martial arts seminar - and forgot to leave the lights on.
"I didn't really know anyone in the area, so I spent the day reading, which was fine - until, several hours later, I realized I could no longer see the words," she says. "My friend had turned off all the lights in the apartment, which was fine when she left that morning, but not entirely so fine when evening came. The only light was in the bathroom... [So] I found myself wedged into the tiny space between the bathroom, the washing machine and the front door, kneeling on a thin blanket and trying to read Charlotte Bronte."
It's odd from the Israeli end, as well. A friend of mine who lived in Israel with her family a number of years ago said she was walking with her family in Jerusalem's Geula neighborhood one Succot, on her way to see the local simhat beit hashoeva celebrations, when she bumped into a friend visiting from America.
"She was all dressed for hag, and was going to look at the simhat beit hashoeva. I had just gotten off the bus and she had just come from shul. It was funny - we had just come from the same place last year, and now it was like we were in totally different places."
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