Sivan 7, 5767
May 24, 2007
Today was Isru Chag here. Conceptually, I know what that means: the day after one of the festivals. Like a bridge, this transitional day stands between the buildup of 49 days to Shavuot, the festival day itself, and eases our return to the mundane weekday routine. "Isru chag" literally means "tie up the festival." That is, to take the joy and meaning of the festival and attach it -”tie it”-to the rest of the year. I like the way Binyomin Cohen, in a Torah From Dixie article, puts it: Isru Chag “is like the gift shop at the end of a museum tour -- in a sense, we need to buy some postcards with which to remember our stay. That way, we can take with us those feelings even after the festival has left us.”
Today, here in Israel, I saw Isru Chag in action, and as the day went on, became a part of it, too. I bring home a postcard to share with you.
The day began as usual: David off to minyan at 7 and I was shortly out of the door for Schachris at the Kotel. As I walked through security, I noticed many more people than usual milling in the plaza. They wore nice clothing, they brought food for their family. It was Thursday, and the atmosphere was festive. On Thursday the Torah is read and many boys celebrate their bar mitzvah at the Kotel. There was another obvious segment of celebrants that did not seem associated with the collection of bar mitzvah families. On the women’s side, they stood dressed in Shabbat finery and we davened together in the chilly morning sunshine. Their children sat close by, some quietly in chair with a baggie of cereal or bamba, others jiggling a stroller so that Ima could pray undisturbed. Afterwards, they spilled into the plaza and met the Abbas. The men were in no hurry to catch the bus, the women chatted as the day warmed and released their children from strollers to toddle with older siblings enjoying the expanse of the plaza.
I, however-oblivious to the sanctity they were bringing into the day-had errands.
Ruby and I caught the 38 bus from the Rova parking lot to town. Here is our view as we waited for the bus. David’s sim card is out of minutes and after several failed attempts to recharge online-as the webpage guaranteed, then getting nowhere with a customer service (a misrepresentation of the term at best) agent, we were told to get a calling card at one of only two specific locations in Jerusalem. And not, as one would think, at a cellphone store-but at the SuperPharm. Living close to town is a great advantage, the bus dropped us off a short walk from the store. Once in, we found the Orange counter-but no, she could not sell me the card. She directed me to the cashier, where I bought it, then was directed back to the Orange counter so that they could decipher the Ivirt instructions for me. What a ballagan! Welcome to Israel.
Meanwhile, David was at work, needing to make calls. He spends most of his time in the Rosh HaYeshiva’s office. The 2 1/2 days he has worked have been full of back to back meetings. So far, he finds the work interesting, exciting and sometimes overwhelming. There is much to do. His job is to follow up on these meetings; specifically via email or phone. However, the ball was not put into motion before his arrival. He really needed his phone reloaded as he has no desk, no computer, no phone. Welcome to Israel.
As we walked down the street to get a bite to eat, Ruby told me it was Isru Chag. The kids were out of school or only went a half day. Many yeshivas were out and young couples took advantage of the free morning to go to town. The restaurants did seem busier than usual. After discussing our options, the best and cheapest schwarma in Jerusalem-but it makes everyone’s stomach hurt, maybe Café Rimon (but we’ll save it for a time when David can join us), we decided to eat at Sambookie on Rechov Jaffo, since Josh Wittenberg and Star had both recommended it. Here the customers were not just grabbing a bite, they were shmoozing over iced coffee and pastries, building gorgeous mountains of salad at the salad bar, and nibbling-like us-on savory mini pizzas and bourkas. It had gotten very warm outside. We sat talked about our all night Shavuot learning and how much we enjoyed her precious friends who came to lunch with us yesterday.
The holiday of Shavuot was one day for us, so I appreciated this time to linger over the memory of our first yom tov here. There was learning all over the Old City, as in all of Jerusalem. Erev Shavuot, after our cooking was done, I listened to a Shira Smiles shiur on naaleh.com and took copious notes that Star and I learned together after the meal. Mrs. Smiles said that early in the morning on Shavuot, a heavenly voice asks, “Who will accept my Torah?” and our souls must be prepared to answer, “Naaseh v’Nishma.” That was so exciting to me! At 4:15 in the morning I woke and went to the roof where there is a view of the Har haBayit. It was so cold. All of Jerusalem could be heard walking, singing, dancing through the alleys of the Old City on the way to the Kotel. The sky went from black velvet to inky blue, from sapphire to purple to orange as the sun came up and the stones, pink and gold woke and the birds swished above. The cacophony of prayer and song from every direction, suddenly stilled as everyone...everyone-100,000 of us...began Shemona Esrei at exactly the same moment together, from rooftops and stairways, in synagogues, yeshivot and filling the Kotel plaza-we were one people-with one voice.
We were all changed, I hope, on that morning. Our souls answered in the affirmative and going on as usual is not an option. We have to take some of that into the year. Isru chag is a day of chol, meaning that there are no restrictions on shopping, driving a day to enjoy the family, shop at a leisurely pace, relax with friends. And a day to think about the enormous kedusha we, as Jews, have within us to bring to the world.
Welcome to Israel.
May your Isru Chag tie us all together and may we be zoche to welcome you to Israel.