In Hebrew, chag means “holiday” and sameach means “happy.” Chag sameach is the greeting I’m hearing most often on the street these days, because 1) the month of October is full of holidays and 2) it’s one of the only phrases I recognize.
I am beyond thankful for whoever lumped all of these holidays into the same month — YES because it’s been a really nice opportunity to hang out in the community and with my cousins in Israel and YES because of the kind of levity that comes with the holiday season but also — not gunna lie — it’s been a nice way to ease into our new work schedules. A couples days on, a couple days off, a couple days on (and so on…) has really been the feel of the month.
I suppose I should address the actual holidays…
First was Rosh Hashanah, from Oct 2–4. Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish new year, the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve — customs on Rosh Hashanah are to attend synagogue, to hear someone blow the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn), to reflect on the past year, and to eat apples dipped in honey. I observed the latter two of these.
My housemates and I were invited to a local family’s house in Nazareth Illit for dinner on Rosh Hashanah. The mother of the family was vegan, so we attempted to make vegan brownies for the occasion. “Attempted” is key because when we checked the first batch after the suggested amount of time in the oven, it was v soupy. 5 minutes later it was still soupy. 15 minutes still soupy. 20 minutes later the outside was burnt to a crisp and the inside was still soupy.
Our second batch was the same.
When life gives you lemons… make vegan fudge balls! We scooped the soupy part of the brownies and less carbon-y parts of the crust into little balls and put them in the fridge. They were — to our surprise — a hit.
The Rosh Hashanah dinner was awesome — the family was loud and friendly, and from Boca Raton so there wasn’t a language barrier. They had three kids around our own age, and we talked with them about growing up in Nazareth Illit and what they’re up to now. The entire meal was vegetarian, which was great as funnily enough everyone in my apartment is tryna be veg as much as possible.
The following weekend, the fellows from Migdal Ha’emek came into town and we toured around Nazareth (again) with them. We visited:
The Church of Annunciation…
St. Joseph’s Church…
And, of course, a bakery in Nazareth.
The following weekend, we had our second tiyul (“trip”) with the BINA programs participants to Jerusalem. We had to be in Jerusalem on Sunday at 8:30am, which meant getting up at 5am that day to bus down. No thanks. I took the bus to Jerusalem the night before, and my cousins David and Yael let me crash at their house. After spending the better part of the night up talking with David, I left first thing the next morning to meet the group in Jerusalem. The bus from the North was late (should have anticipated that..), so by the time we met up and arrived in the Old City of Jerusalem, it was close to 10am.
The Old City is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Unfortunately, we only had time to explore the Jewish Quarter with our tour guide. He took us first to King David’s Tomb, the site where it is believed that David — the second King of Israel — is buried. Then we walked directly upstairs to the Cenacle, which is thought to be the site of the Last Supper. The room actually felt more like a mosque, with Ottoman-era stained glass windows with Arabic writing and a mihrab, an alcove indicating the direction of Mecca.
The rest of our tour involved walking down narrow lanes…
… and climbing the stairs of private residences for rooftop views.
Our tour guide deposited us at the Western Wall at the end of our tour, which is part of the retaining wall built around the Temple Mount during the expansion of the Second Temple. The Wall is sometimes called the Wailing Wall, as some Jews cry there in remembrance of the destruction of the Temples.
The Western Wall is considered the holiest place in the world that is religiously accessible to Jews, as Jews are not permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, the most holy site in Judaism. The Temple Mount is believed — in Judaism — to be the site were the Temples stood and where God’s presence is the strongest. According to the “status quo agreement” that was reached in the days following the 1967 Six Day War, the site would be administered by the Jordanian Waqf and only Muslims would be able to pray there, although Jews and Christians would be able to visit during certain hours. For security and political reasons, that deal is still in effect, but increasing numbers of Jewish people want the right to pray on the Mount and activists often attempt to.
I think about my grandpa’s favorite word, “compromise,” and its relevance to the ideological tension. It seems that all hell would break loose if Jews were suddenly permitted to pray on the Temple Mount. Is it really worth risking peace, security, and the hope of coexistence for the right to pray at the holiest site in Judaism? I don’t think so, but of course — as a secular person — I don’t have much to lose by not being able to pray at the Temple Mount. Still, I think that if everyone would just hand over the reins of governance and administration to my grandpa, we’d all be a lot better off.
The Western Wall itself is also contentious. Before the Six Day War, the plaza in front of the Western Wall was not a conveniently open space — it was the Moroccan Quarter, which was destroyed days after the Six Day War to create the space where Jewish people from around the world (including us) now congregate and pray.
Further, many Jewish women — in a movement called the Women of the Wall — want the Wall to be egalitarian. They want the women’s and men’s sides to be equal in terms of Wall-space (the men have a lot more room and a tunnel for study and prayer), which I think makes sense both on principle and also every time I’m there I see a lot more women than men praying at the Wall (in fairness, maybe there are lots of men chilling in their private tunnel). Additionally, many women want the ability to pray at the Wall with the Torah, to sing, and to wear the religious garments that men wear in prayer. Recently, an egalitarian section of the Wall was created to appease Women of the Wall, which is great but not exactly what they’re looking for.
I was pretty excited to check out this new egalitarian section when we entered the Wall plaza. But the Wall looked the same — a women’s section and men’s section. I learned soon enough that you actually have to leave the plaza, backtrack to the other side of security, and then find the small sign and entrance to the egalitarian section, a small platform against the Wall and totally separated from everyone else praying at the Wall. It’s no wonder we were the only people there.
In its own way, the Wall was really peaceful in the egalitarian section, as there weren’t throngs of women pushing their way to the front. It also looked and felt a lot different than the Wall in the main plaza, which has been touched to a smooth finish.
For lunch we headed to the Machane Yehuda Market, which is more often just referred to as the shuk (“market”). Stalls in the market are piled with dried fruits, spices, beans, baked goods, fruits, and vegetables.
My cousins David and Meir met up with me and my friends at the market, and we had lunch at a restaurant nearby. I had some seriously good hummus…
We grabbed ice cream around the corner, then said goodbye to David who was heading home. Meir stuck around for our afternoon programming. First we heard from a representative from the Women of the Wall movement, who told us a bit of the history of the movement and some anecdotes about their activism. Apparently the group has one member who is responsible for smuggling a Torah through security into the women’s section every month. She said that the Torah has been arrested quite a few times. Then we heard from a panel of three super Orthodox Jewish women, who talked to us about their roles in society and experiences. I think that this is the kind of experience that would be more meaningful in a 1-on-1 setting, as it just felt like two groups coming from completely different belief systems talking at each other and missing the mark. After this second panel, I said goodbye to Meir and we took the bus back up to the North.
This past week was the holiday of Yom Kippur, which is a somber holiday of repentance and atonement. Traditionally, people spend the holiday fasting from sunset to sunset and attending synagogue services. My holiday was a little bit different — I made a big dinner of pasta and garlic bread for Hanna and her girlfriend, Sarah. They brought over some wine, and we had a really enjoyable evening. So enjoyable, in fact, that I was out of commission for the majority of the following day with plenty of time to atone for my sins. At some point in bed that morning, I listened to a podcast about how society has constructed a very narrow definition of nature as 100% organic and separate from suburbia and city life. The podcast argued that we should appreciate all of the nature in our lives, even if it’s a tree planted on a city sidewalk. The podcast inspired me to take a walk in the afternoon and look more closely at the nature in our neighborhood. Some pics from the walk:
Out and about on Yom Kippur, it was interesting to see that Nazareth Illit was closed to traffic. Kids biked, scootered, played, and sledded* on the open streets.
*In Israel, sledding isn’t only for snow. Seemingly every kid in Nazareth Illit has this sled-tricycle thing that roars down the street — closest thing to it is an alpine slide. I’ll try to get a pic next time.
I was invited to dinner last night by some cousins who live nearby in Afula, who I’ve met only once or twice. I visited their house first, which was beautiful and has an incredible view of the Jezreel Valley and Carmel Mountains. Then we went to have dinner at their daughter’s kibbutz, where she lives with her husband and three kids. Her kids are so cute!!
Today was totally free, so my housemate Matt and I took a long walk through Nazareth Illit and Nazareth — we stopped halfway for a hummus break.
Speaking of food…
The grounds manager at school continues to pick me up and more often that not has already grabbed me something fresh from the bakery. A couple days ago it was man’oushe with zatar.
Everyday, the grounds manager instructs me to sit and makes me a cup of fresh tea when we arrive. I can’t say shukran (“thanks” in Arabic) enough to this guy.
I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking at home — plenty of bean soups. Matt’s starting to insist that we take longer breaks between lentil meals. We’ll see about that.
Hope everyone in the States is enjoying the Fall season! xoxo. Talk soon!