Do you suffer like me from Jewish anxiety dreams? In a recurring nightmare, I wake up on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, first realizing that Pessah
begins that night. I haven't even started to prepare. This year I experienced a new version on the night of Yom Kippur
, after Kol Nidre
and the evening service. In one nightmare after another I forgot it was Yom Kippur, got up in the morning and ate breakfast. What a relief I experienced to wake up, to the return of logic and reality, and find myself still fasting in Jerusalem
, a city where forgetting any holiday, let alone Yom Kippur, would be unlikely for anyone not anaesthetized. The silence surrounding my third-floor urban apartment would be sufficient to make me realize this was a unique day. Not to mention the white clothing and sneakers laid out to wear.
Indeed, for our real concerns about religious-secular gaps, missing any of the holidays in Israel
would be improbable, something you can't say about the Diaspora. Some customs do draw exclusively observant Israelis - like the handwritten sign near my butcher shop offering "Kaparot
[the chicken-swinging repentance exercise] at a discount." I use a run-of-the-mill cellphone service which doesn't have me marked down as religious, but a few hours before the fast began my cellular telephone beeped, announcing a text message. Pelephone wanted to know if I'd perhaps forgotten to ask forgiveness from anyone?
THE INTENSE prayer services for Yom Kippur cover repentance for misbehavior between us and the Creator, but the process requires asking forgiveness from humans we have maligned or injured. In Judaism, love means you do have to say you're sorry. But this year I could delegate the task to Pelephone, which presented a stunning list of options for asking forgiveness. You can personalize these requests for your mother, your sister, your friend, and in a choice of exaggerated accents - Moroccan, Russian
(!) accents, and even one that imitates Shimon Peres
! There was also a selection of musical apologies to suit every taste, from rap to Brenda Lee's 1960 "I'm sorry, so sorry."
I might be wrong, but I bet American Cellular and Verizon Wireless don't send such messages to their customers.
Although succot have become more popular outside Israel, most Diaspora Jews can't count on going to sleep the night after Yom Kippur (no nightmares!) to the pleasant staccato of hammer against wood. By morning, thatched-roof booths already situated on balconies and stand in front, back and middle yards. My husband daringly climbs the eucalyptus trees to provide fragrant branches to cover our succa and those of our neighbors.
The nicest part of the Succot
holiday in Israel is that it blunts the razor edges between so-called religious and so-called secular. The earnestness of succa construction and the ubiquity of the huts belie our often bemoaned neglect of tradition.
Rabbi Simha Bunim of Peshischa wrote that there was no mitzva more endearing than sitting in the succa, because every part of us is surrounded by the mitzva. I feel that way not only when I'm sitting in my succa, but also as I walk through the streets of Jerusalem surrounded by people keeping the commandment of succa. There's a taste of Temple times in the influx of visitors - those who come from out of town and those who come from out of country to celebrate the holiday in Jerusalem. The rumor that several Jerusalem hotels need to be booked a full year ahead for Succot is sweet indeed, particularly for those who remember the darkened hotels of the intifada.
I feel privileged to be able to offer succa hospitality in Jerusalem, a privilege available to all those who choose to live here. Not by chance do we celebrate Shmini Atzeret with such vigor. That holiday marks our historical entrance into the Promised Land, and highlights the importance of aliya. In Israel Shmini Atzeret is fittingly combined with Simhat Torah
, our rejoicing at completing one Torah cycle and seamlessly beginning another.
While filled with the joy of the holiday, this is the time for those who haven't yet fulfilled their dream of living in Israel to contact Nefesh B'Nefesh
, the laudable initiative to revitalize aliya by removing the financial, professional and logistic obstacles that might stand in the way of potential immigrants making the daunting step of leaving their familiar neighborhoods and moving here. (Applications at http://www.nbn.org.il)
On Simhat Torah we chant the prayer that mentions the importance of rain in this otherwise dry land, but then desist for two weeks before asking for rain so that pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem can safely return home. With so many of our brethren suffering from a surplus of rain and water, this precaution feels more poignant than ever.
There's another option for those who have enjoyed the holiday season in Israel or who are on study programs or tours. Nefesh B'Nefesh offers an express-aliya program for those already in Israel to turn a temporary stay into a permanent one. That's something like exchanging a succa for a permanent home.
And that's what Shmini Atzeret is all about.