26 Sivan 5769
June 18, 2009
Dear Friends and Family,
It’s that time again, for the annual “12 to 12.” Nefesh B'Nefesh requested that every Oleh compose a list of 12 things we appreciate and love about living in Israel and email our message to 12 friends abroad. It’s a tikkun for the sin of the spies we read in Parsha Shelach. In the past, we sent out “12+1” and “12 to 120” and this year, “12 Invitations.” Let’s make an extra effort this week not to say anything that could possibly be construed as negative about the Land. (there’s a lot of Hebrew in this one, so I put a glossary at the end)
In Israel, we read parsha Shelach last Shabbos because your 2nd day Shavous was a “regular” Shabbos for us. Which of course brings me to one of the nicest things people tout for living here:
1) No 2-day Yom tov. I had no idea how special that could be until
we lived it. All the energy of the yom tov condensed and distilled into one 25-hour oasis, crystallizes the magnificence of the holy day.
And so it is with all the holidays-
2) The entire country regardless of custom or level of observance shares the chag. For secular Israelis Shavuos may be a day off --for basking in the sun, and for Chassidim a day on-- for dressing in the most regal of clothing and basking in the countenance of their Rebbe. For those in our realm, it’s like Shabbos with a different aroma. I don’t mean cheese and butter; there is richness to the very air. We hear singing all day in the Old City alleyways. The yeshivas are spending their last chag together; the boys hang on to every sweet morsel of the experience. The seminary girls who come to us in droves, B”H talk about all they learned and David and I comment on how they have matured into fine young women ready to begin a new generation of Kl’al Yisrael, b’esras Hashem. We bless them that the will return soon with their husbands and establish their homes here. (amen)
3) Tourist Season. The kids are mostly gone now, and every week in the summer months friends and acquaintances from Atlanta and kiruv group participants are booked for meals at our Shabbos table. It’s really something to look forward to as these visitors always energize us. They readily share their week of life changing experiences and insights over the meal. It’s delicious.
4) Days of simcha and days of mourning express themselves fully here. Beginning soon with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, the Jerusalem air each day will feel emptier and emptier until by the 9th of Av there will seem be no air at all to breathe. The stones seem harder, the sun harsher, the loss even greater.
And then-- it is Shabbos Nachamu- last year at the Kotel on Shabbos Nachamu morning just after the Torah reading, I heard the voice of a frightened little boy. He pierced the cool morning air with a longing wail, “ aba-aba!” I turned to see the almost 3-year-old in his tiny vest and Shabbos pants, shiny shoes and un-cut hair tied into a flowing pony tail, looking utterly lost and alone. Just then, his mother scooped him into her arms and held him close until his sobbing subsided. And the haftorah began: Nachamu, nachamu ami----
5) Then, the country goes on vacation together and there is an astounding abundance of natural beauty to visit during the weeks of comfort called “chufsha, ” “bein hazmanim,” a.k.a., vacation. Israelis go to zimmers (cottages) in the cool mountains and valleys of the North, camping along the sapphire Mediterranean and on tiyuim (trips) to the craters in the sparse dessert or to lush wineries throughout the country, or on adventures like caving, rappelling, biking, rafting and hiking. Yeshivas close, run a less rigorous program and some move out of the city for a refreshing change of pace in preparation for Elul.
6) Elul is very, very serious here. Shiurim take on an urgent tone and pop up everywhere, every day, every night. We work in earnest to prepare for the awesome days soon upon us. Slichos begins at dawn for Sephardim and the shofar blows all morning throughout the Land. Buses to Rachel’s Tomb and Hevron are full, we give tzedeka to the collectors a bit more freely and we bite our tongue a bit more often. It’s also a sweet time. The kids are back. Israeli teachers fill the Kotel Elul mornings with hundreds of young students in identical pastel shirts and dark pleated skirts, or children capped in brightly colored kippot, wearing shorts and flying tzitzit. Yeshiva boys announce themselves in great song on Friday nights. Throughout the week, new American seminary students giggle in groups in the plaza in and shed sincere tears in solitary prayer at the wall.
7) Even the gashmius side of life here takes on a yom tov aura. In America, Labor day sales are emptying the stores of summer clothing, but in Israel we will wear white into October. Hat store windows display 17 different styles; only white in Elul. All along Jaffa Road you can buy flowing skirts and men’s three piece suits in pure white. Deep into usually “black” Geula, women shop for tailored outfits and children’s dresses as white as clouds.
And on the streets and in the malls and at the shuk you have no doubt that any yom tov is on her way. Sefarim stores fill their shelves with recent publications and reliable classics written to inspire deeper insights into the holiday at hand. Relevant machzorim pile on tables in front of the stores on crowded sidewalks. In Elul, honey bottles, bears and jars are everywhere. Tablecloths fly out the doors of linen shops. The silver stores clean their windows--just as we work to clean our souls, so their polished wares gleam in the sun.
8) Every Jew directs their prayer towards Israel and Jerusalem.
When the Awesome Days finally arrive, we find ourselves standing on the front lines of prayer. Do we feel fully worthy? Not at all. However, we know that we are backed by you, holy Jews around the globe begging for mercy, heeding the shofar, honoring the King, longing to come home.
9) The Yom Kippur fast ends early and the hammering begins…
Our fast is over somewhere around 6:30 and immediately after a light meal, we begin to hear hammer on nails, planks banging and metal bars clanging. Store fronts turn into lulav and esrog stands overnight, sidewalks and mall kiosks overflow with sukkah decorations and Simchas Torah flags. Before we know it we’ve moved outside for a week of delight in the cool fall air, sleeping near our snoring neighbors under a blanket of Jerusalem stars.
10) With the chill of winter comes donut season! Beginning on the 1st of Cheshvan, it lasts all the way until the 8th night of Chanukah. After that, you’ll rarely see (or want to see) another fried pastry until the next Cheshvan. During Chanukah schools get off early and work understands that you’ll be leaving by 3. Everyone, and I mean everyone, lights menorahs. We walk around different neighborhoods to enjoy the simple flames outside the doors or twinkling in the windows in every apartment on every story. Everywhere.
11) The almond trees blossom to announce that Tu b’Shevat is here-- and then on 1 Adar Purim “begins.” Kids pile off the buses in costume and hamentashen pop up in places which just a few months ago hawked varieties of doughnuts, and before that sold esrogim and lulavim. The Breslovers drive around in Adar with huge speakers attached to the roofs of cars with bungee cords. You just can’t help but smile and put a little bounce in your step when you hear their music and see their joy. This national simcha escalates for 2 weeks and then, the party begins! And for those who didn’t get enough to drink on Purim day-you can always head to Jerusalem for Shushan Purim. Now that’s a 2-day holiday many people go for!
12) Pesach: While it’s great that entire stores go kosher for Passover, it’s even better that any number of rabbis are available 24/7 for the multitude of shailas that come up several times each day. We love how once it is Chol Hamoed, everyone is finally relaxed and ready for the concerts each evening and fireworks after sunset. Every town and moshav has its festival, some with magicians, musicians or clowns or balloon sculptors, maybe art displays, special tours and tiyulim.
But I think the very best part of Pesach is that one pure Seder. The one that ends just like yours does: “Next year in Yerushalayim.”
So come home soon.
David & Rena
We are so excited IY”H to welcome our dear friends, Moshe, Caryn, Tova, Chaim, Yael, Shira, Shalom Tzvi and Gila Oberman as olim chadashim (new arrivals on aliya) next week! May they have only an ayin tova (see good) about the Land and may their yishuv (settling in) be easy.
b’esras Hashem, G-d willing
chag, yom tov-holiday
Chol Hamoed- interim days of Passover and Sukkos
Haftorah-a section of the Book of Prophets read after the Torah portion on Shabbos
Kl’al Yisrael-the Jewish people
Lulav, esrog, sukkah-used on the holiday of Sukkos
Machzorim-holiday prayer books
Sephardim-Jews of Middle Eastern and Spanish descent
Shabbos Nachamu-the Sabbath of comfort following our day of national mourning
Shailas-questions about Jewish law
Shushan Purim-the day Purim is observed in walled cities such as Jerusalem
Simchas Torah-last day of Sukkos
Slichos-prayers of repentance
Tammuz, Av, Elul, Cheshvan, Shevat, Adar-Hebrew Months