Greetings from the very Holy Land!

(By Yoel Kranz)
By Sarah Kranz
Ah, the High Holidays in the Holy Land. Does the combination make the holidays higher or the land holier? Neither? Both? No matter, what is certain is that the hours leading up to Rosh Hashana in Israel are different from the same hours in other parts of the world. Those of us who live in the United States and other Western countries know the feeling exactly -- it''s the evening of December 24th come early. Here''s a Wednesday afternoon in September and all the shops begin to shutter soon after twelve o''clock noon. Schools and offices are already closed for the holiday. Can you imagine, you take off two days midweek from work and do not even have to turn on your Out-of-Office reply -- there simply isn''t anybody in the entire country who assumes you will be reading email. 
The streets gradually clear of cars, until by 6:30PM or so there is only the open road filled with pedestrians of every variety on their way to synagogues (of equal variety) and/or dinner parties. The order of the day was laid out for us by a clerk at the auto insurance office the day before. "Nu, what are you doing for the holiday?" she asked. "Here in Israel you''re supposed to have a big dinner with family, we eat apples dipped in honey -- have you ever heard of this? -- and then in the morning you go to the beach." Walking through the neighborhood after the evening services, it''s plain to see that pretty much everyone keeps to at least the first part of the plan. In the States, the houses that are dark in December are presumably the Jewish ones. There are no dark houses here on Rosh Hashana night. 
But the ceremonies are not uniform from house to house. On the contrary, different ethnicities, varying levels of observance and contrasting views of ritual lead to a dizzying array of practices among the apple-in-honey dippers. Our hosts the first evening are of Sephardic extraction (Gibraltar) and they lead us through a special Rosh Hashana "seder" of apples, leeks, squash, spinach, Swiss chard and dates, each accompanied by its own New Year blessing. For a moment I am panic-stricken by the thought that I have been absently dropping bread crumbs from the challah over the dates and have now ruined the seder (wrong holiday, thank g-d :-) Our hosts the following day are progressive Americans who in a noble effort to conserve water have requested and received rabbinical approval for a group hand washing that involves everyone stacking their curled fists one on top of the other and somebody pouring just one basin of water from the top. (Who pours on the pourer?) On Saturday we take lunch in the park on a community picnic. 
Incidentally, it turns out that the most sought after person in all of Raanana on the Jewish High Holidays is neither the rabbi nor the cantor. It is Dinah, the Indian mother''s helper living with our American lunch hosts. The afternoon brings one door knocker after another (no bell ringers!) looking for Dinah. Does she have special spiritual powers? Does she sing in the choir? I don''t know, maybe, but more immediately, Dinah is the only person around that can turn air conditioners and light switches on and off, can put out fires on the stove and generally do all the things that the Jews cannot on the holiday. Jewish mothers everywhere sound the alarm -- all these Jews gathered together from all over the world and they cannot so much as manage to turn on the light by themselves.
Notes from Rosh Hashana Afternoon -- Took a Long Walk with Kobe and Mimi, Got Lost, Saw Many Fine Things, Cast Away Our Sins in Tashlich and Stepped in Poop. Seriously, what''s with the dog poop? At the bottom of every fig tree and palm in this holiest of lands, and at the base of every street sign and fire hydrant as well, is a small mound of dog poop. The city has installed free pooper-scooper plastic bag dispensers in every park and open public area -- there are little mounds of poop at the bottom of these as well. There we are, walking along breathing the Rosh Hashana air, thinking Rosh Hashana thoughts and singing Rosh Hashana songs when, squish, just stepped in the dog poop again . . .
G''mar Chatima Tova, a wonderfully sweet and good year to all :-)