The succession of the autumn holidays usually stirs up certain, familiar feelings and signifies a special time of year. The routine begins with the excitement of Rosh Hashanah which leads into the reflection period of Yom Kippur, ending in crowded, but cozy meals and sleepovers in the Sukkah. Shabbats are always sprinkled in between and made extra special with the family visiting for the holidays. For the past 17 years, this period of time has come with a natural expectation of family filtering in and out of the house for weeks to come, changing seasons bringing colorful leaves and cool air, and the beginning of the school year and all of its excitement.
However, this past month was replaced with nostalgia, as my family and those memories were suddenly thousands of miles away. I was able to catch glimpses of what I remembered these holidays to be as I heard the hustle and bustle of life back home in the background of each phone call, and saw my full house of family and friends over FaceTime.
These past few weeks in Israel have been unfamiliar to what I know, but a beautiful new experience which enhanced my understanding and appreciation of what this time of year is really about. Back at home, I was accustomed to only spending the holiday with my family and close friends. However, this year in Israel I experienced the special unity of an entire country. Whether observant or not, every Jew in Israel shares in the excitement of Rosh Hashanah and pauses to observe Yom Kippur. Religion and culture go hand in hand here, as sitting in the sukkah during Sukkot is a natural part of life. Streets are covered with restaurants' meticulously decorated sukkahs for all guests to feast in starting the day Yom Kippur ends until Simchat Torah begins.
On the eve of many chagim, I've enjoyed walking through the streets of Meah Shearim, one of the most intensely observant Jewish communities in the world. The streets were packed to almost a standstill with people preparing for the holidays. The lines for those scrambling to the very last minute to purchase machzors spanned out the doors of every bookstore in the city. Children were selling lulavs and etrogs on the sidewalks, and the aroma of potato kugel from the stands on every street corner swirled in the air with each gust of wind. I imagine an aerial view would paint large masses of black for the thousands of hats, shtreimels and felt yarmulkes, covering a sea of people who flooded the streets.
On the high holidays busses stop running and everyday life comes to a halt. Restaurants and businesses close and the daily buzz is replaced with a more subdued, holy vibe that mellows the people and penetrates the country's typically hectic atmosphere. It was amazing that the thought of seeing a driver on the street over a high holiday was crazier than thousands of Jews leisurely roaming the typically bustling, traffic-filled roads. For the first time ever, I felt an overwhelming sense of unity when it came to my Jewish identity and values; I was a small fish in a big sea instead of a lone public school Jew.
Up until now, this string of holidays had become an inevitable, yearly routine. But now that I've experienced them in Israel, how can they ever be anything less than extraordinary? It's a beautiful thing when the Hebrew calendar becomes one with everyday life. I'm slowly adapting to this Israeli way of living and appreciating how naturally their culture embraces each holiday. I will definitely remember this time of year fondly and yearn for this feeling next year from my New York dorm room.
I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and Sukkot!
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Sydni Burg is a 2017 graduate of Solon High School. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem in a seminary called Midreshet Moriah. There, she takes religious classes on all topics, books, concepts and laws of Judaism.