Here in Israel, the holiday is felt everywhere. The checkout lady at the supermarket wished everyone a Shanah Tovah, because the holiday is on everyone's mind. There is no feeling that the holiday crept up on you, because the world view here is centered around the Holiday cycle. Rosh Hashana is the last real day of summer for secular Israelis and often that means one last beach trip. Sounds strange to American Jews, but for some reason it seems to fit in my mind. I was in services all day, but I could understand how a secular Israeli might want to streatch their summer just one more day. The Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah is traditionally an extra large party. It makes sense to me as well, because the New Years (Jan 1st) is always a large party. Why not celebrate the last few hours the last year and rejoice in the year to come?
I hosted two friends for Rosh Hashanah and we decided to Shul hop around Jerusalem's many options. I attended HUC for Erev Rosh Hashanah and found it to be a carbon copy of every other Reform High Holiday service I had ever been to. There was a large operatic choir singing the prayers to beautiful tunes, and each cantorial student had at least one solo. The cantorial students have been running around like their collective hair was on fire for the last month preparing. It was nice, but I'm in Israel and couldn't pass up the opportunity to see as much as possible.
I ducked out of HUC after the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah day 1 and headed quickly for Har-El. While they have a well trained operatic cantor, the whole service had a much different feel. The entirety of the service was in Hebrew, it is an Israeli Reform shul after all. I arrived just in time to pray Mussaf with the congregation, a part of the service not included in most American Reform Synagogues. The service ended with B'shana Ha'baah, an Israeli folk tune who's title literally means 'Next Year.' Its a song of hope and decidedly secular. Singing that song at the end of Rosh Hashanah services reminded me why I love the Israeli Reform Movement, an amazing blend of old and new.
On day 2 of Rosh Hashanah my friends and I went to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue for Scharit services. Because I was hosting to women, they sat in the balcony and had a much better view than I did. It is a spectacular view and an amazing place. The whole shul is designed to be acoustically perfect for the Chazzan (service leader.) He stands facing the Ark and sings, accompanied by an all male operatic choir, and without the aid of a microphone all 2,000 people can hear his wonderful voice. The service is decidely Orthodox in its leaning, but it was a unique exprience. The Chazzan there will be retiring after this Yom Kippur and I had to see him lead services once before then.
After Shacharit we wandered a block down the street to the Conservative Yeshivah to catch Mussaf. It was a more egalitarian type service, but still had its times when the Chazzanit (female service leader) allowed the participants to go their own pace. The Sermon was very interesting and seemed to come from the heart. Its rare to see a Rabbi speak without notes, in my experience, but he spoke eloquently. The theme was one of T'shuva (repentance) and specifically the Ramban's teachings about it.
After the whole experience we walked back to my apartment to nosh a bit and then we walked over to the Kotel in the old city. There were a lot of tourists out. I joked they were 'watching the Jew in his natural environment.' (Use the National Geographic narrator in your head for that line.) My friends and I decided to pray Mincha service together just outside the gate to the Kotel plaza, so we could pray in mixed company. Then we headed down to the Kotel to say our own prayers. As I entered the Kotel area, a group of 20 something Modern Orthodox men asked me to pray with them. They already had a minyan, so the gesture was one of pure hospitality. How could I refuse? Orthodox Mincha service takes roughly 10 minutes and these boys were no exception. As we concluded with the Mourners Kaddish I turned to leave and meet my friends back in the plaza. One of the men grabbed my arm and said, stay and sing with us. Once again how could I refuse? Their voices weren't operatic, but something about the way we sat and sang next to the Kotel was magical. I really felt the depth of faith these young men had. Beautiful is an understated adjative for this situation.
When I finally left to go with my friends, they told me they loved listening to that 'wonderful group of singers over on the men's side.' I couldn't help but blush that I had been part of it, but it was an amazing experience to be a part of it. What a wonderful New Year celebration I had.
Now for the Resolution...I've gotten pretty sloppy about keeping up with you all through the blog and through all the various other forms of communication I have available. I'm going to do my best to change that.
I hope you all had a wonderful New Year. לשנה טובה!
P.S. If I have wronged you in the past year please find it in your heart not just to forgive me, but to email me so that I can try to make amends.