Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Month of Hagim: Jan Gaines' Letter from Netanya

Dear Friends,

The Hagim (holidays) here in Israel starts with frenzied shopping before Rosh Hashonah. Not just for food, but new clothes, kitchen and dining items, and even furniture. The lines in the supermarkets lasted an hour, giving me plenty of time to chat with other shoppers in my line. One young woman, seeing I was an American, said to me " if we ever lose the U.S. we will be doomed." Just another reminder of how many Israelis rely on Congress, on American Jews (YOU!) for a feeling of semi-security.

Many Israelis DO go to synagogue on the Yamin Noraim (High Holy Days) even tho they are considered "secular". I saw many unfamiliar faces, men dressed in T shirts and jeans, in my synagogue. But they put on tallit and kippot. Especially for Yom Kippur which was a truly awesome day. Even the most anti-religious Israelis observe the custom of NEVER driving a car on Yom Kippur. All over the country there is a sudden quiet descending, starting with 4:00 p.m. Kol Nidre night. Everyone wears white, the women especially dressed in flowing white cotton skirts or pants and tops. The men put on a white shirt. And while there are a few who are not in synagogue for Yom Kippur day, most everyone goes somewhere. We were packed, much more so than on Rosh Hashonah. If only we could get a handful of these families to join us during the year!!!

The exception to this quiet are the kids. This is the one day a year when they have unfettered access to all the streets. So every conceivable kind of wheeled apparatus was out, from small toy cars to skate boards to mountain bikes. The kids started this wheel rally on Kol Nidre and kept it up almost for 24 hours. There is a hill on my way to synagogue and there the shrieks of delighted boys followed me all the way to the doors. Kids as young as 2 or 3 years were part of the fun, chaperoned either by a parent (not in Synagogue) or an older sibling.

Few synagogues have a break fast on the premises. Most people go to family, friends or home. We had about 20 people at someone's apartment, everyone bringing something. Backing up a bit, the only similarity at the end to TBE was Neilah with the kids up on the bimah to see the last shofar blowing - - and we only had one shofar blower, the cantor. We finished earlier than in Stamford, or at least so it seemed. It got dark by 5:30, probably because the Yamin Noraim were so late this year.

I missed the gorgeous and spiritually inspiring services at TBE. Do you know how lucky you are?

After Yom Kippur there is a 1 day breather until Succot comes in, during which everyone, or so it seems, puts up a succah in any corner they can find. Every single or duplex home, every apartment balcony or terrace, and surprisingly for me, every restaurant, puts up a succah which they really use every day of the holiday. In fact, a group of us went to a new restaurant last night and were surprised to see that they didn't have a succah- - - we almost walked out.

All over the streets you see men and boys carrying their lulav in a long plastic container, day and night. There are services every morning and for some, every night, in all the city synagogues. Of course these are all Orthodox. We only do a long morning minyan.

This is the week when all the kids are out of school and there are wonderful activities for them all over the country. Here in Netanya, which is crowded with French and British tourists, we have a unique art festival of mosaic art, both do it yourself in the public square, and galleries with professional exhibits. We also have a huge festival of succot from 20 different countries with different activities for the kids from watching a fire eating juggler at the French succah to making paper fans at the Spanish succah.

But today, as I write, on Tuesday the 18th, there is another drama going on, the releast of Gilad Schalit for 1200 Palestinian "prisoners" as the media call them, but "terrorists" and murderers as we call them, which is what they are. While 80% of the Israeli public approve of the swap, it is still with a heavy heart. Released are the planners and executors (who weren't killed by the suicide bombs) of the Park Hotel Pesach massacre here only 4 blocks from me, of the Jerusalem Sbarro bombing where whole families were wiped out, of the Dolphinariam bombing in Tel Aviv which killed dozens of teen agers, many of them Russian only children of their parents, and a Haifa restaurant bombing, as well as many other terrorist murders.

I'm watching a TV channel called France 24 which many of you can get in Stamford, and which I always have felt was pretty well balanced. They are an English language station, and now they are giving full coverage to the joy of the families of "prisoners" , which they see as so "touching." Never do they get specific over who these "prisoners" are or what they have done. Just the sweet reunions. This is Israel Bashing in a "kinder, gentler" version. I don't expect anything different from CNN Europe and haven't even turned it on.

These days are some of the most beautiful I've experienced in Israel. The sun is strong, the breeze is gentle, the sea is calm, the temps between 75-80. I've been swimming in the sea because it is so smooth, without waves. The city square, our promenades along the sea( of about 6 miles) and the pedestrian areas are crowded with strolling families, young couples, baby carriages. The cafes are full. This is Succot in Israel, celebrated also today in Jerusalem with the Feast of Tabernacles procession of both 4,000 Christians and their Jewish friends. It is a time when the eternal dedication of the Jews to their traditions and their homeland have never been more visible.

Hag Sameach. Jan Gaines

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