Thursday, October 23, 2008

Holiday in Eilat

When my husband started planning a holiday for the end of October, I wasn't too sure. We were going to Eilat so there was no worry about the weather and the off-season meant the price was right. Also, my husband and his work colleagues had managed to organise that we would be a large group as we had intended. It just seemed that the end of October was an awkward date, in the middle of nowhere.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have realised that the end of October is the perfect date, giving us a few days away to recover after the craziness of the holidays.

At first, I thought it was just me, feeling the pressure of working outside the home, particularly as I was working extra hours to compensate for the holidays and to cover for my colleague who was ill. I was also recovering from a nasty bout with the flu but unlike my colleague, I didn't have the option of retiring to bed until I felt better.
Now it seems that everyone has found this holiday season particularly difficult. The problem is the timing of all the holidays - they all fell mid-week.

Personally, I hate it when the holidays fall on a Saturday - I feel cheated - all that extra preparation and no extra day off work. Strictly according to the law employers are supposed to give an additional day for every holiday on a Saturday but my husband is unable to take full advantage of the holiday time he already had=s so that doesn't help much.

Holidays that fall on a Friday or Sunday are good as they extend the weekend. Holidays on Thursday or Monday can be fabulous if there is a 'bridge', ie the employer decided that bringing the workers in for only a half day on Friday or Sunday is not worthwhile, resulting in a 3 day weekend!

For those of you wondering what the heck I mean by half days - In Judaism a day starts at sunset. On holidays and Shabbat after a quick trip to the synagogue, we return home to a festive meal. Because work, lighting of fire and therefore cooking is forbidden on Shabbat or religious holidays the home and the meal must be prepared before hand thus requiring that on Shabbat or holiday eve there is only a half day of work . Or rather paid work - cooking and cleaning the house seems like more than enough work to me!

But this year was neither the disappointment of a holiday on Shabbat or the joy of a 3-day weekend. This year the holidays were mid-week giving us just enough time to fit in a few days of work on either side. It became a treadmill of work, cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat, work cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat. Exhausting.

For the last few years the factory where my husband works has giving us a weekend in Tel Aviv as a 'birhtday present.'
We would ensure that we were booked for the same we
ekend as his friends and I soon had made great friendships with the wives.
This year they chose to oofer us a contribution towards any holiday we chose. Some poeple went their own way but a large group of us decided we wanted to be together. Someone organised a deal with a family hotel and everyone booked.
We will be about 30 couples plus children.

So tomorrow, no today, we are leaving the house at 5am to drive to Eilat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Succot in Shlomi

Within hours of the end of the Yom Kippur fast, the sound of hammering fills the air as all over Israel people start constructing their succot.

In England we relied on our synagogue to supply our succah requirements. We did have a garden and one year considered constructing a succah using the frame of our 5-man tent as a base but inclement weather soon put paid to our plans.

In Israel Succot comes at the end of a long, dry summer and the outside temperature is still warm even at night, often unbearably so. It is rare for the first rain to fall, as it has done this year, before the end of Succot.
Few Israelis have a house with a garden where they can build a succah so at this time of year when you look skywards you catch sight of various types of huts with leafy top coverings, perched on the balconies on apartments.

Shlomi was started as a development town. At first they build 'train' houses - small one-storey houses built in a line like railway carriages. But as Shlomi's population expanded and the need for government housing grew the authorities began to build low rise apartments blocks (four storeys - the maximum allowed without a lift). These are small, subsidised apartments without balconies. The only space for a succah is the area of communal space under and around the block.

An alley lined with a wild variety of succot

Once the hammering has died down it is great to walk round Shlomi listening to the rustle of palm fronds on succah roofs and the flap of sheets used as succah 'door' coverings. Most succot are the same size as they are based on commercially built frames but the coverings are wild and various. Some use spare wooden boards, rescued from cast off furniture and saved in the store. Some use the green or blue 'juta', a plastic imitation of jute that is cheaper and much light than canvas.

One family built a succah in their parking space

Many use old bed sheets, the floral patterns acting as background 'wallpaper' for other decorations. A few even use banners covered with political slogans provided by the local incumbent who is doing his best to garner goodwill before the November elections.

A succah with political tendencies


"Welcome" to our succah

When I lived in England I had mixed feelings about Succot. It was this funny little festival coming after all the hullabaloo of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

When I went to cheder on Sunday morning there would be a couple of my classmates' fathers dangling from ladders in the JCC's small courtyard and our lessons would be accompanied by the sounds of rustling leaves and hammering nails. The younger classes would troop in after a while to hang their decorations. Inevitably it would rain at some point.
Following the Succot service itself the congregation would huddle in the cold, damp Succah and say a blessing. Then after devouring a symbolic morsel we would shuff
e out again. It was all a bit of an anti-climax.

But the service itself held a touch of magic. In cheder class the teacher explained to us about each element of the Four Species letting us gently examine the lulav and etrog used in the synagogue and explaining a few basic rules of what made them kosher.

What stuck most in my teenage mind was the symbolism of the taste and smell of the various elements.

The lulav (palm) has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds.
The hadass (myrtle) has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah.
The aravah (willow) has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who lack both Torah and good deeds.

The etrog (citron) has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and good deeds.
All these elements must be combined for the Four Species to be kosher. If one is lacking then the mitzvah has not been performed. A good lesson in Jewish unity
and heartening for those of us who weren't quite so expert in the laws and ritual of Judaism.

I would sit alone at the service, my friends with their families, my fath
er in the men's section and my mother at home, glad to actually be able to understand something about this fascinating festival. As the lulav and etrog were shaken in my direction I would feel blessed by the power of these plants that had been grown in the soil of Israel and gave a wry smile as we half-heartedly repeated the prayer for the rain we could already hear pit-patting as it dripped through the roof of the Succah.

When I first came to Israel I lived on a Kibbutz. I remember the parties for Purim, yellow cheese on Shavuot and the disco turned synagogue on Yom Kippur but although I'm sure they must have built a succah I have no recollection.
In fact I have few memories of Succot in Israel until my parents m
oved here. Their second rental was an 'arab' (ie built of local stone in the Ottoman era) house in Akko and we constructed a thoroughly non-kosher succah under their pergola. It was kind of nice and we invited friends but most of the decorations were shop bought. And the shiny Christmas-style decorations that had made us laugh in the shop seemed sort of tacky when combined with the fruits of the Seven Species. For the next few years I always found building our succah a little disheartening and preferred visiting our friends in theirs.

My Dad fixing up the succah

And then we had children. The first year my daughter was in daycare she came home clutching a Succot banner and clear CD decorated with small circular stickers. By the time the both children were in kindergarten we had quite an assortment of banners and Torah scrolls, fruit and doves.
I threw out all the shop bought decorations, found
a new set of lights adorned with pomegranates to make them look less like something destined for a Christmas tree, and decided that Succot was actually quite fun.

This year, between work and Shabbat, we were a little delayed and ended up decorating the morning before the start of Succot. After building the actual Succah we dug out the decorations. Or at least we intended to; problem was they seemed to have disappeared. Thinking back to last year we had vague a recollection of throwing out most of the children-made decorations, that had began to fall apart from years of use.
As my father was going to cook the meal I made a detour to the local office/craft supplies shop on the way home and instead of dedicating my afternoon to a siesta the children and I crafted doves, apples and Succot banners from card, crepe paper and glue.

Even the cats 'help' with the succah

In the evening we went as a family to synagogue and enjoyed kiddush together with our friends in the congregation's succah. We listened to our Rabbi's, now traditional, Succot sermon reminding us that Succot is zman simchateinu, the time of our joy, and that the Torah commands us not only that "thou shalt rejoice in thy feast" but also "thou shalt be altogether joyful".
When we pray for rain I though mean it with all my heart and am thankful for the cool breeze on my bare arms that brings with it the hope that the rain is not too far away.

The only thing I miss is the shaking of the lulav. In our congregation such pleasures are reserved for those able to convince their families to get up early for the Shachrit (morning) service. So far I have succeeded only once and that was the year Succot coincided with Shabbat when the shaking of the lulav is not permitted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This Morning I Washed My Face In Rain Water

The alarm went off at the usual time because even though this is still a holiday the children have their synagogue youth trip today. I lay there trying to regain consciousness and heard a car drive past - accompanied by what sounded like splashing puddles!

Yes, it definitely felt colder. Yes, my ears did seem to be hearing a pit-pat of raindrops. I took a deep breath. OMG was that the smell of damp earth?

I forced my eyelids up, grappled for my glasses on the bedside table, and rushed to the window. A flip of the shutters showed the tarmac outside to be a dark, WET, grey!!

I threw on some clothes and dashed outside, nearly slipping on the wet entranceway. This was no stray cloud sprinkling a few drops of rain on its journey across our bright blue horizon.

grey clouds

The sky is grey with clouds, there is thunder rumbling in the background, and I can even hear the faint wa-wa of distant car alarms brought to life by the thunder and a violent cackle of lightening that my son claims woke him up.

grey vista

Now I sit by my computer with the window wide open, inhaling the delicious fragrance of rain soaked Israel and cooled by a chilly breeze that makes my skin tingle with the anticipation of winter.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Akko Shoots Itself In The Foot Once Again

Last night we joined with friends to break the fast after Yom Kippur.

As we walked through the door our friends, knowing that my husband comes from Akko, asked if we had heard the news.
We cut ourselves off from TV and computer during Yom Kippur so we had no idea that during the fast riots had broken out in my husband's hometown.

Of course, my husband immediately phoned his parents. Although they live in the North of the modern city his brother lives in the eastern housing area when the rioting starting.

Akko Harbour, the Old City, in happier times

Akko is built around the old crusader city of Acre. The Old City, situated on a headland, is mainly populated by Muslims with the modern city to the north where there is a mixed population of Arab Christians and Jews. As the city has grown, the Jewish population has spread out to the East. In recent years with massive over-population and renovation of the Old City, Moslems have also moved from the Old City to the housing area in the East.

On Yom Kippur in Israel, almost all traffic ceases. The occasional car in mixed citied like Akko negotiates its way slowly and carefully though the Jewish residents who, whether fasting or not,
take advantage of the traffic-free streets to stroll along the boulevards in large groups enjoying the cool evening breeze while the children of the less religious race around on bikes and rollerblades.

This Yom Kippur was different. According to my in-laws and other local residents - in the eastern housing area of Akko an Arab drove through the neighbourhood, music blaring. When neighbours asked that he respect the sanctity of Yom Kippur he just became more provocative.
The situation then escalated, other residents were drawn into the conflict and some began throwing stones at the car. (Tell me: if all labour is forbidden on Yom Kippur doesn't that include stone throwing?)

Rumours then spread among the Arab community that the driver had been killed and residents of the Old City marched the couple of kilometres across town to retaliate.
A riot ensued and several people were injured. It was eventually broken up by the police who had been totally unprepared and slow to respond

Once 'order' was restored, the Arabs were allowed to return home to the Old City. En route they marched through the shopping centre systematically vandalising every Jewish run business.

As a result, on Thursday evening when the fast was over, the riots broke out again. Jewish residents complained that they were being restrained by the same police who had done nothing to prevent the Arab vandalism the previous night.
Now there are police and border guards positioned every few hundred meters throughout Akko.

As this will doubtless be classified as nationalistic violence, the cost of repairs to cars, homes and business will be met by the government. But Akko once again, as in the Second Intifada, is deserted and its tourist based economy will suffer.
A friend who owns a local restaurant has had to let most of his staff go home and is considering closing up for a while.

The Old City is hit hardest. The merchants rely on tourists and Jewish Saturday shoppers for most of their trade. The annual Succot Fringe Theatre Festival, a valuable source of income, has just been cancelled.
After the Second Intifada it took more that six months for people to feel safe enough to return to the Old City and by that time many businesses had gone bankrupt.

On a personal note: none of our family was injured and my in-laws say that it will be safe for us to visit tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On Reflection

This evening is the start of Yom Kippur and although I am certain that my usual problems with dehydration and low blood sugar levels, brought on by the long summer and exacerbated by the vicious virus that is still plaguing my body, will prevent me from fasting the whole 25 hours I will be refraining from TV, knitting and the computer until late tomorrow evening.

However, I have spent the last hour or so translating this week's drasha (sermon).

The Torah portion this week is Ha'azinu in which Moses is informed he will not entering the Promised Land. Supposedly, this is a punishment for his disobedience to G-d in the water and the rock incident.

What caught my attention as I was reading out the Hebrew version was the phrase במי מריבה- waters of contention. The phrase is used frequently in Hebrew when discussing an argument. Moreover, I know the story of the rock and the water quite well. But until now I had never connected the two

am not quite sure why but I am always delighted when I discover the source of idioms in common use in Hebrew especially when the source is Biblical. Israelis casually pepper their conversations with these thousand-year-old phrases in a way that most English speakers do not anymore.

In the same way that many Israeli pop singers quote prayers or refer to G-d in their songs without every considering themselves an Israeli version of 'gospel' , these biblical quotes are used without any reference to whether the speaker is religious or secular or Reform.