This RH started from preparing mentally for the upcoming Holy Days: Not only the slichot night at Sod Siach, but also slichot in the morning at Pardes, led by fellow students, a slichot event livestramed by the Women of the Wall with beautiful songleading and a shiur about a loving relationship with God. The takeaway being that God is like a father (or mother) desperate for our love and vulnurable to our neglect. This idea was sourced in the Talmud passage speaking about God asking the Kohen Gadol to bless Him. I connected a lot to this idea. The reason this was relevant was also because we use part of the Kohen Gadol's blessing in the Rosh HaShana service.
The last day of the year, Friday, was a long day of cooking and cleaning up. That day the lockdown was due to start too, but nobody was bothered by that. In fact, the government changed how far you can walk from your house from 500 m to 1 km just a few hours before the lockdown started. Some last minute meal plans due to that change and I was invited at the Dean's place for the second night of RH. How exciting!
Due to time being short (one hour before Chag and Shabbat I attemped - and succeeded - making canneloni), I decided to go the local Chabad comminity, that set up davening-camp in the park just a few blocks away. I was impressed to find a very professional sounding chazan leading the service! In the park children were playing so I got the familair Chabad experience. The service was very relaxed and didn't rush anywhere.
For the first meal it was just me and my flatmates. We didn't manage to write down the simanim, so we just made up things from what we knew and had available to prepare. I had fresh figs for the first time in my life and I also learned how to know the difference between a Tamar (date) and a Te'enah (fig) in Hebrew. "You would't want to go on a date with a Te'enah, but rather a Tamar." We talked about Zionism and our Zionist upbringing. After the meal, when talking about plans for the next day (Shabbat) I mentioned I would be having breakfast before shul, and a whole discussion about various strange Chabad customs ensued. One of my flatmates knows a lot about Chabad so I learned a fair deal of things ^^
In the morning my Shabbos alarm rang early to be on time for the Shacharit at Sod Siach, the traditional egalitarian community of Katamonim. Service was due to start at 8, but the Gabbayim asked to come earlier and help set up. The plan was to set up 4 capsules for 20 people each. There would be a main capsula with the Baaley haTefila, from which people would be then called up to the Torah. The idea was to limit the interaction between the capsulas. The service was rushed and didn't reach the atmosphere I had expected for a High Holy Day. Mostly due to the weather getting hotter, everyone being in masks and wanting to be done with everything sooner than later. As a result many Piyutim (poems in the prayer that are sung together) were left out, which I found a little sad. Also due to Shabbat there was no sounding of the Shofar, which also diminshed the feel of the service. I had planned to go to a dofferent service on Sunday anyway so I hoped that that would be more promising.
After the service being over before 12 (!!!) I went home to prepare the meal with my flatmates. The rest of the day I spent reading (and napping). I have bought myslef the Koren Sacks Machzorim for the Holidays and I enjoyed reading Rabbi Sacks' commentary a lot! Reach out and we can talk about some of his eyeopening vorts (ideas) about Rosh HaShana.
For the second night meal I was invited at the Dean David Bernstein. They moved with their young children to Israel more than 35 years ago. I took the opportunity to ask them about their motivation to make Aliyah and their struggles raising a family here. I got some really good answers that I will be thinking about for a while. The most important advice they gave me was not to overthink descisions and not to worry too much about what might be in the future and which descisions we might make then. Who know, maybe for some reason they will all be irrelevant again, like Covid has shown us.
In the morning of the second day of Rosh HaShana the Shabbos alarm rang early again waking me up for a Shacharit in the park of the natural history museum. The Minyan of Nava Tehila was gathering there and I was curious to check it out. I have been told many amazing things about this Minyan, so I gathered up my courage and went. I arrived at a canoped open space next to the building of the museum. The performers were already setting up their instruments. I have been told about the musical backing of the service. I was curious about a Rosh HaShana service with musical instruments. At Kallah, the Jewish Summercamp by BBYO in the US I already experienced prayer service with music and it has left me with a very positive memory (shout out to Eric Hunker and Happie Hoffman - check out their music!). The Shacarit service at Nava Tehila did not disappoint me - on the contrary! The prayers were very spiritual and the piyutim accomponied by music created a totally different kind of Tfilah and Kavanah for me. I don't remember the melodies - such things just stay in the moment. Maybe sometime you can catch me humming one of them and me not even knowing where I know it from ;)
After the Shacharit prayer I walked over to Sod Siach again. This time I knew that I wouldn't be disappointed, because my flatmate Gabriel was leading the Mussaf prayer. I had hurried not to miss the Shofar blowing, but I arrived just in the middle of the silent Mussaf prayer. I decided to pray my silent prayer parallel to the repitition of the Mussaf amida, which in retrospective was a very interesting and meaningful expereice, letting the singing of the Chazan elevate my prayer too. The shofar was sounded in a very clear cut sound by Aviva (I have forgotten her last name..). I have indeed never heard such a clear sound of the Shofar before. In German we say makellos. After services I went home again for kiddush lunch. On the way I was looking / hearing for other Minyanim which weren't as fast as ours to hear my missing shofar sounds to make it to 100. As I passed a school I could hear a very souldful niggun, sung by a fairly large group of chassidic men praying together in the shade of a school, collecting their Kavanah (intention, direction) for the Shofarot. I popped in and so completed the Mizwah (commandment) of the day to hear 100 sounds of the Shofar with a blessing!
At home we warmed up the canelloni that I made just before Chag and for the short time available and the fact that it was my first time making canelloni they were better than I expected. After kiddush with my flatmates I continued reading in the Machzor and also looked into the Torah Tidbits magazine by OU Israel and the HaMizrachi magazine by the HaMizrachi movement that I picked up from the OU Israel center, just on Keren HaYessod a few blocks from my house. How lucky!
For the conclusion of the Holy Day(s) a friend from Germany, who also studies at Pardes and doesn't live far came to visit and we talked about current events in German Jewry and reminicined a little about the things we miss and don't miss.
On my way from Maariv in the Park with Chabad of Talbiyeh (where the Holy Day started for me) one of the guards guarding Bibi's office asked me if I could make Havdalah for her. So I took the kiddush cup and the rest of the wine and ended the Chag with a good deed to a total stranger! But we shall not forget, All of Israel are Brothers and Sisters as well as All of Israel are responsible for one another.
Gmar Chatima Tova to all of you loyal readers! Thanks for keeping up!
Also - disclaimer to all of you who didn't know: I don't subsribe to one specific shul (synagogue) but rather practice what many call "shul hopping" where you switch shuls every now and then for some change and alternation. For me being in Jersualem and having countless opportunities for this, I am taking all of them and will be hopping from shul to shul interdenominationally. You can be sure to hear all about it in this blog in the future IYH! 😀