I have gotten complaints from my readers that I’ve not been posting enough. My apologies.
Fortunately for those readers clamoring for an update, I’m on break from school, and have been since just before Yom Kippur, which means these next entries will likely focus on traveling, friends, and seeing the country, rather than just on academics. Without further ado, here’s the first one!
Succos in Israel is unlike anywhere else in the world. Totally amazing. A brief explanation first: the Jews are commanded to build little huts (“succos” or “succot,” singular “succah”) and to dwell in them for seven days. This holiday begins a week after the fast of Yom Kippur, which means the days in between are spent building the succos. So…to “dwell in” means, basically, doing anything in the succah that you would do at home; mainly eating and sleeping. (Restaurants in Israel build their own succos!!!!!! It’s so cool!) It’s considered a “time-bound positive mitzvah,” which puts it in the category of optional, but not required, for women. Which is a good thing, because although virtually all of my neighbors have built their own succos, there’s really no good place for my roommates and me to build one, so we’ve just been taking advantage of the fact that we are women and are therefore allowed to sleep in our own beds.
Like Passover and Chanukah, Succos is actually 7 or 8 days long, depending who you ask (generally, 7 if you live in Israel, 8 in the Diaspora). It starts out as a Yom Tov (which for all intents and purposes is basically the same thing as Shabbos, as far as what the day is like), then continues in “intermediate days” where you still have to “dwell” in the succah, but people go back to work and school (except in Israel, apparently…), then ends with another Yom Tov, called Simchas Torah, which is the day where we finish reading the Torah and then start reading it all over again, and much dancing and merrymaking happens.
And…that explanation turned out not to be so brief. Now as for my adventures….
I spent the first days of Succos with the G. family—they are family friends who live a couple-hour bus ride away from me. They are really amazing people…some of the warmest, most loving people I’ve ever met. He’s American, she’s Israeli, and they have seven children—five of whom are married—and I believe eight grandchildren. All but the oldest son and his wife and kids joined us, and so did her brother and sister-in-law, so it was a very full house!
Mrs. G was worried about where she was going to put everyone, but the fact that all the men slept in the succah meant that she only had to place the girls, which made her job much easier. I shared a room with Ashira, the only one of their daughters who is not yet married. She’s eighteen and is spending the year doing volunteer work for the Israeli army; specifically, she’s working with deaf kids. Being hard of hearing myself, I was really interested in finding out the similarities between the Israeli sign language she knows and the American sign language that I’m familiar with but am not fluent in. Fortunately, she has a decent grasp of English, so we were able to talk a lot (and taught each other our respective sign language alphabets). Some of her siblings did not speak as good English, so even though I could usually understand their Hebrew (if they spoke slowly enough!), she ended up doing a lot of translating between us.
It’s amazing how much this family has changed, and yet has stayed the same, since I last saw them two years ago. One son has become bar mitzvah, two daughters have gotten married, and several grandchildren have been born. I spent a lot of time holding a fussy infant and marveling at his two-year-old sister, who only weighed six pounds the last time I saw her….
So I spent a very pleasant three days, came home, and have been enjoying the fact that my time is only mine—in addition to such essentials as grocery shopping, laundry, and daily prayer and Torah learning, I’ve been sleeping late (when I can! Today I was up before seven, woken up by the sunrise), surfing the Internet, and reading, especially after finding a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book in my friend Emily’s apartment.
Next week will probably see me traveling…there are so many cities, settlements, holy sites, local friend, and so much more that I’ve not yet seen, so once the country comes to life after this holiday (most stores have been closed for a week, with restaurants and grocery stores being the only exception I’ve seen), I’ll hopefully start exploring it.