These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Holiday Edition!

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Eric Feldman

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

cross-posted from my blog:

Hey!  It’s been a while since I posted last, so lets get right to it.

The last 2 weeks were the two major holidays of the year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the last major holiday of the month, Sukkot, begins on Sunday night and lasts for a week.  Sukkahs are already popping up all over town, as well as people selling lulavs and etrogs.  I’ll try to take some pictures over the week and then post them  since it’s going to be awesome to see.  This is kind of like the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season in America – schools are off, lots of holidays, and Coca Cola has their holiday edition bottles out…the only difference is the lack of snow.

For Rosh Hashana, I bounced around to a bunch of different places for services and meals.  Highlights included hosting a large meal with lots of Pardes students on the first day, and going to the Kotel during the first evening of Rosh Hashana.  There were a ton of people there, including ~150 Chassidic fellows with massive pais and na-nach-nachman beanies jumping up and down and dancing and singing…I of course joined them.  And it was great.  Jews from all over the world, dancing and singing and celebrating the new year at the holiest place on earth.

Then, two days ago, we celebrated Yom Kippur.  The blog-worthy details are that the entire country shuts down for 25 hours.  And I mean completely shuts down.  Highways = empty.  24/7 shops – closed.  Airport – shut down.  It’s also referred to as bicycle day because all of the children take advantage of the empty streets with bikes and scooters.  After services let out on Tuesday evening, we headed over to Emek Refaim to see thousands of people dressed in white walking around and people biking and scootering and the traffic lights just flashing yellow.  It felt kind of like the end of the world.  Streets that normally have cars in them all the time were just completely empty.  You get the idea.  And then after the holiday, we all got together for a nice break fast.  A word of advice – don’t drink wine at break fasts.

Other things that I’ve been up to in the past few weeks:

  • I explored the old city a bit and found some great rooftops (where you can walk from rooftop to rooftop) with great views of the city, so I’ll definitely be back there.
  • Waking up at obscene hours to watch these ravens night games, but completely worth it to see us beat the patriots and browns!
  • Went on a great weekend retreat with Pardes to a place called Beit Yehuda two weeks ago – great way to get to spend time with and get to know the students and teachers I’ll be spending the year with.  And we did a sunrise hike by the biblical zoo, pretty cool.

And I’ll end with (if you’ve made it this far) a brief recap from a great class about Sukkot that I had yesterday:

Like the other two major festivals of the year (Shavuot and Passover), Sukkot has both has historical and agricultural significance – it represents the sukkahs (temporary dwellings) that were built by the Jews while wandering the desert for forty years, and it also signifies the gathering in of the harvest and the onset of the rainy season.  Why, at the time when we bring in our harvest, do we leave the comfort of our homes and sleep and eat in sukkahs for seven days?  So that we don’t take what we have for granted, become arrogant, and forget about G-d’s role in the world, which would be likely to happen during the time of plenty right after the harvest.

From the historical perspective, this is the same reason that G-d brought the Jews into the wilderness for forty years before taking them to the land of plenty, Israel, where everything would be taken care of for them.  By bringing them to the wilderness first, where they were reliant on G-d for everything from food to shelter, they were able to develop humility, appreciation for everything in life, and recognition to G-d,  which became crucial to their future survival (up until now).  This is not just an ancient story – a recurring theme throughout world history is that the decline of great empires has begun once the people became complacent and forgot the earlier story of where they came from and the lessons they had learned.