Spending Sukkoth in Israel is really a great privilege. It is probably the best time to be in Israel. The weather is still great, there are festivals all over the country and many people are off work. Unlike Passover, there are no onerous food restrictions. So during the intermediate days (Hol Hamoed), many Israelis are travelling, hosting each other (often in Sukkoth) and enjoying festivals, outdoor concerts and other events.
|Panorama View of Our Family Sukkah
We enjoyed a large family dinner on the first night of Sukkoth and hosted friends in our sukkah the next day. Great start to the holiday though it seems to get more and more difficult each year to find the time right after Yom Kippur ends to put up the sukkah in timely fashion. Especially since we are usually putting up two - one at my in-laws - a huge 4x5 metre sukkah and one at our place. We have customarily put up the large sukkah right after Yom Kippur ends. But this year, Yom Kippur was in mid- September and Israel did not change its clocks for the first time in quite a number of years. Very hard to put up a big sukkah starting only at 9:30/10:00 p.m. after a day of fasting.
|View of a Tzolk'in Board at Games Day
Sunday Sep 22, we attended the annual Jerusalem board games festival. You might think that sounds rather boring. Okay, for some it might be. But for those who enjoy challenging board games, especially "Euro-games" that have been growing in popularity since 1995 or so (with the emergence of Settlers of Catan), this kind of festival is lots of fun. We had the chance to play Puerto Rico and Tzolk`in, two terrific games. At its peak, there were about 40 people attending, playing a wide range of board games with breaks for eating lunch and dinner in the sukkah.
Our festive day was cut short with news of the tragic death of a cousin in an early morning car accident. We left Jerusalem and attended the funeral in B'nai Ayish. The funeral of our 27 year old cousin was only days after Yom Kippur. I couldn't help but think of the High Holy Day liturgy that we had been reading, from the famous prayer Unetaneh Tokef - ..כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר וּכְעָנָן כָּלָה וּכְרוּחַ נוֹשָׁבֶת וּכְאָבָק פּוֹרֵחַ וְכַחֲלוֹם יָעוּף Man is likened to a "broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream." The words felt so real in the face of this type of horrible loss, of a cousin whose wedding we had attended so recently. To hear the whole version of Unetaneh Tokef, try this link to an IDF version or this version, written by Yair Rosenblum.
Despite the sombre mood, we still had to commemorate the holiday. Simchat Torah, as usual, was a holiday highlight at Hod ve'Hadar. This year, one Hakafah really stuck out for me. ("Hakafoth" are rounds of singing and dancing in celebration of completing the annual cyle of reading the Torah. Often accompanied by alcohol...). For the third Hakafah, the congregation invited all those present who could not dance for physical reasons to come to the centre of the shul and sit in a circle. Some were given Torahs to hold. The congregants danced in a circle around this group of, mainly, elderly and disabled congregants. It was such a beautiful, inclusive Hakafah, and the type of activity that captures the spirit and heart of Hod vHadar. As I participated, I thought to myself that every shul should do this. Yet in all of my years of celebrating Simchat Torah, I do not remember seeing it. Once again, I thought of a verse from the High Holy Day liturgy, this time אל תשליכני לעת זקנה- "Do not cast me way in my old age - when my strength fails me." For a moving musical version, try this link to Michel Cohen or this version by Avihu Medina. This special Hakafah was an example of our shul taking this verse to heart and honouring its elderly.
I had to leave Israel after Simchat Torah to head back to Toronto, after a month or so in Israel. I took a late night flight on United Airlines through Newark, since Air Canada only flies during the day and the prices sky rocket for a few days after the holidays end.
I arrived in Toronto at about 8:30 a.m. on Friday September 27, 2013. For me, the holiday had officially ended but for the Jewish community outside of Israel, it was still Simchat Torah. So I decided to celebrate Simchat Torah twice, as I have done two or three times in the past. I showed up at shul in time to share a Torah reading table and join the Hazzan for Musaf. We finished the service with a version of Adon Olam sang to "Rock Around the Clock" which was quite fun. Of course, it was simply not the same as being able to celebrate with my family the previous day but it just did not seem right to go to the office, even though the holy day had officially ended for Israelis.
In Israel, there are many songs and colloquialisms that refer to "Acharei HaHagim" - "after the holidays." Everything will be done "after the holidays." In fact, one person at shul in K'far Saba said to us on Thursday - "do you know what day it is tomorrow? - it's after the holidays..." So now it is after the holidays for another year. It is time to complete this period of reflection, introspection and celebration and get back to work. It would probably also be a good idea to try losing some weight after all of those festive holiday meals.
Shana Tova and Shavua Tov. Here's hoping for a peaceful, fulfilling and joyous year.