As many of you may know, I have been in Israel studying, learning, traveling, and experiencing the Jewish Culture in ways I could have never imagined. Each day I become more immersed in Judaism and am surrounded by Judaism everywhere I turn. Something extremely special I have learned from my time in Israel is the celebration of the Jewish Hagim (holidays).
I celebrated the High Holidays, and witnessed how important Tshuva (repentance) is here, and how important it is to respect the halacha (Jewish Law) and ancient tradition of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is (to secular and non secular families). The Shabbatot in Jerusalem are magical when there are no phones in the hand of any stranger walking down the street enjoying their beautiful, meaningful day of rest, and no cars on the roads respecting our age old traditions. The most recent Hag, Sukkot, one of the 3 pilgrimage holidays to the Beit Hamikdash in the temple periods, an 8 day festival that consists of shaking the Lulav and Etrog, the time when you and your family build a Sukkah in the backyard (or if your parents are not the most handy people in the world, you go visit a friend’s sukkah), has just passed.
I am going to be honest with you, prior to my trip to Israel, I really felt no connection to this holiday. Sukkot was never the day I could eat Matzah Ball Soup, or excuse myself from school, or dress up in crazy costumes, or open a present each night. Sukkot was the holiday in which i was “forced” to stand outside under some cramped wooden structure and get bitten up by mosquitoes. BUT my outlook on this glorious holiday has since changed!! Sukkot in Israel has been one of the happiest times I have and ever will experience. It is a holiday based around love and joy and family.
Sukkot in Israel is a time of vacation – the first and last days are national holidays when most businesses close (similar to a regular Shabbat), the days in between are normal business days except for the many Israelis that take the time off work. I have received the opportunity to genuinely understand living in a place where Judaism is in the public sphere and is recognized by everyone. When you have lived your whole life in western society, influenced by Christian culture, it is such a gift, and a beautiful feeling of comfort being in the Jewish homeland, where being Jewish is not the minority.
“Zmaan Simchateinu” is the phrase you hear constantly during times the Sukkot holiday here in Eretz Yisrael. It is translated to, “Our time to rejoice” and that really is what Sukkot is. A time for every Jew to feel blessed, happy, and fulfilled.
I just celebrated Simchat Torah at Kibbutz Hanaton in Northern Israel. This Kibbutz was founded by the conservative movement, but the ideology here revolves around the acceptance of all different types of Jews that live here. There are residents here from practically every sect of Judaism, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and completely secular.
During the celebration of Simchat Torah at Kibbutz Hanaton, the passion, love, and joy for the Torah was surely evident. Joy was in the singing voices of the men and women joining together creating harmonies, but simultaneously unifying into one voice. Joy was absorbed from the ground into my feet, and spread all throughout my body, as I felt the floor shake to the rhythm of the energetic clapping and stomping of the diverse Jews. Joy was passed along to each person in that room as the torah made its way into everybody’s arms and gifted each person with the life and light it contains. The singing and dancing felt as if it would go on forever, as each song flowed like the rushing waters of the red sea into the next. Each time I thought I could not go on, and felt as if I needed a break from the singing and dancing, I seemed to always find a bit of extra fuel, like the oil lasting for just a bit longer each night in the Hanukkah story. I could feel the generations of Jews that had danced and sang to the exact same tunes I was dancing and singing along to from hundreds of years ago, and I could feel the energy of the generations that will continue the traditions in hundreds and thousands of years into the future. Words can really not describe the overwhelming amount of joy and energy exuberated by each individual celebrating Simchat Torah. I hope to bring back this feeling, and share it with my Jewish community in the States.
Sending lots of love and peace from Israel along with a big Hag Sameach!!