Sights and sounds of Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem
By Judy Lash Balint
JERUSALEM–Anyone venturing into the shuk or even a local supermarket in Israel this week could be forgiven for thinking that a famine was imminent in the land.
Shoppers laden with huge nylon bags bulging with every kind of produce, fish, meat and bread may be seen staggering under the weight of their purchases, secure in the knowledge that they have sufficient provisions for the three days when stores are closed for the holiday and Shabbat.
Certain foods are traditional to eat on Rosh Hashana, and the markets are full of the most beautiful pomegranates, succulent dates and crisp apples. All the produce is local—pomegranate trees grow everywhere, even in private gardens; dates are from the Jordan Valley and apples from the Golan.
For some, the three-day Jerusalem shutdown of entertainment and shopping is a little much. One of my more secular neighbors informed me she’s running off to a hotel in Tel Aviv for the duration. Tel Aviv’s beaches are generally packed on every holy day.
Other secular Israelis, however, are intrigued by the pre-Rosh Hashana traditions, and join 3 a.m. tours of the selichot (forgiveness) services at Jerusalem synagogues in the old neighborhoods. It’s mostly the Sephardic congregations that host the melodic recitation of penitential prayers in the month before Yom Kippur. Late at night, the Old City is jammed with visitors making their way down to the Kotel for selichot, and taking a walking tour of the back alleys along the way. At 11:30 p.m in the square in front of the renovated Hurva Synagogue, industrious groups of young yeshiva guys feverishly unload panel after panel of plywood and 2 by 4 poles to construct the sukka there.
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Newspaper polls report that only 47 percent of Israelis plan on attending synagogue services to pray during Rosh Hashana, but hotels all over the country report 95 percent occupancy rates. The traffic jams generated by all that coming and going are truly monumental. In the hours leading up to the leyl Rosh Hashana family dinner, it seems as if the entire country is on the road. Roads anywhere near shopping centers have been packed for days now, so we should be used to it.
A uniquely Israeli tradition is the “haramat cosit” literally, “lifting of the glass”, in honor of the New Year. Government ministries, corporations and municipal offices all host toasts where wine and good cheer flow. The fleet of diplomatic vehicles double-parked outside the official presidential residence in Jerusalem is an indication that President Shimon Peres is hosting the diplomatic corps for the traditional New Year bash.
No doubt, the foreign emissaries were discussing the tensions of the day, which this year, once again include the Iranian nuclear threat and the current direct peace talks.
So as we prepare to sign off for a few days of introspection and stocktaking, we take this opportunity to wish Jewish readers and their families a year of health, fulfillment and success—oh yes, and peace and quiet.
Judy Lash Balint is a freelance writer whose posts may be found regularly on the blog: Jerusalem Diaries:In Tense Times