In Israel, one can move between worlds. It is a bizarre and enlightening experience.
This New Year I moved between two different worlds, neither of them my “real life.”
The first is the online world of Facebook, Twitter, emails, and WhatsApp. As a writer and
Content and Marketing Specialist I spend much of my time connected to the virtual world. On cue, as the holiday approached, my feeds filled up with blessings of Shana Tova from all over the world. My phone was flooded with messages.
Many of the messages were general posts, some personal, quite a number were corporate ads. A lot of copy-pasting and forwarding messages written by someone else, for someone else.
Instead of getting me into the holiday spirit, I felt sad. And a little annoyed. In our fast-paced, instant world, how many people are actually sending a blessing to someone they care about, written specifically for that person? Does anyone actually send handwritten cards anymore?
Rosh Hashanah and the days leading up to Yom Kippur are a very special time of year. Even for those who are not religious, they serve as a reminder to take stock of one’s life, recognize mistakes made in the past, ask forgiveness and try to be better in the year to come. This psyche cleansing lesson in personal responsibility and drive to better ourselves has been a positive influence on the Jewish world for centuries. How many of us are going through the motions and completely missing the point?
We stepped into a different world with the decision to spend the holiday with friends in Jerusalem. As we drove into the city the streets were hushed. In Israel’s capital, few people were out. Most were either in the synagogue or already with family or friends. The city was not asleep but rather awake with internal joy, happening behind walls.
On the short walk from the car to our friend’s home, we heard singing from different windows. Jews united in celebration of the New Year, the day that marks God’s creation of the world.
The next morning, we wandered the streets of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. I don’t like the term ultra-Orthodox but there are no words to correctly describe that universe within Jerusalem. The residents of that neighborhood are not more pious but more strict, sometimes more extreme in their ways of practicing their beliefs.
Mea Shearim is certainly not my world. I can walk the streets as an outsider, immediately obvious to the residents as “not belonging,” even if I dress similarly to them, to fit their ideas of what is modest and not stand out too much. The Orthodox are not a monolithic group but rather many subcommunities with subtle differences between them and intricate details that make them instantly identifiable to each other.
I would have loved to take photos of the holiday outfits of the people we saw there (but couldn’t due to it being a holiday)!
While secular Jews tend to wear white on holidays, here we saw a rainbow of bright colors – unusual for people who tend to wear dark clothes (so as to not draw attention to themselves). Women and children were outfitted in bright yellow, royal blue and gold and everything in-between. Some had flowers or ribbons in their hair.
They weren’t doing anything a secular person would recognize as a holiday celebration. People, just walking – from home to their synagogue, standing together outside synagogues so full there wasn’t room for everyone inside, listening to prayers through the windows, walking home from the synagogue… It was as if we had gathered some 50 different Jewish communities into one neighborhood, frozen in time, exactly as they were 200 years ago.
The only revolutionary thing about them was that all this was taking place in the Jewish State.
We walked through streets with almost no cars. We passed different synagogues, heard prayers chanted in different melodies but all with the same words and heard the sound of the shofar from different windows, calling Jewish souls to wake up.
Now I am back in my “world”, with my family. Yom Kippur is almost here.
Somehow all I can think of is the question – is my soul awake? Is yours?