“After the Holidays”

The Biblical Fall Festival season is a legitimate excuse to put aside day-to-day duties and projects

Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

We are in one of the most important times of the year. We celebrated the Jewish New Year, fasted on Yom Kippur and are now waiting for the week of the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot. We are in the midst of the High Holy Days that we love so much here, the best time of year when no one is ashamed to take a break, to put aside daily chores. If it were up to our youngest son, who is on vacation from his army service throughout the holidays, it would go on forever. One the holidays are over, there are no more excuses.

“After the holidays” is a term that we all like to use here, it legitimizes our forgetfulness when it comes to all the duties and tasks life throws at us. After all, everything else must be put aside to properly celebrate and enjoy these biblical festivals.

On Thursday we marked Yom Kippur, fasting for 25 hours, like every year. During the time when my father-in-law was still alive, I had spent most of Yom Kippur with him and my brothers-in-law in the synagogue. Staying at home just wasn’t an option. Between 9 a.m. and the end of the fast, we sat together in the synagogue. To this day I still have the melodies of the various prayers in my head. In between there was always an hour with the rabbi, which I always liked very much. It was a time to deal with all sorts of situations in everyday life. I knew the rabbi very well, he had married me and my wife and also officiated the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies for our two sons. After this short break, the chants and prayers continued until the end of the fast was reached. When we came out of the synagogue, my wife and my mother-in-law were already waiting outside, and welcomed us with a couple of savory pastries and freshly squeezed lemonade, which is said to be particularly digestible after the long fast.

Today we spend Yom Kippur at home. Perhaps I should have looked for a synagogue here in Modiin too, at least for the holidays, but somehow it didn’t work out. I am not what you would call a “religious” Jew, even if Judaism is very important to me. We celebrate every holiday, light the candles on Shabbat evening and fast on Yom Kippur. Because, in my opinion, that is what held the Jewish people together through centuries of exile and continues to do so today. Yom Kippur in particular is a day that holds all Jews together, even the “chilonim” (secular), most of whom also fast on this day.

Yom Kippur, the festival of bicycles.

But Yom Kippur is also the festival of the bicycle. On this day the empty roads are overcrowded with bicycles, for the most part those of children who use this day to ride on the otherwise forbidden streets. Unfortunately, there are also a few devastating accidents almost every year. This was also the case this year, when a 12-year-old boy was run over by a reckless driver on the evening of Yom Kippur. Dreadful.

No balcony is too small for a sukkah, as here in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

Immediately after the fast you can hear an eager tapping of the hammer in our neighborhood. No time to waste, because the sukkah, the tabernacle, has to be ready for the Feast of Tabernacles by the following evening. We’re a little lazy here too, I’ll admit it. We never built a real sukkah, but this was also due to the fact that we used to live in Jerusalem in an apartment without a garden or balcony. For the children we often built a small sukkah inside the apartment for the atmosphere, but of course it wasn’t like the real thing. And here in Modiin we closed our terrace a few times so that it was very similar to a leaf hut. Maybe I could have been a little more diligent in this regard.

So the next holiday begins tomorrow evening, and it won’t be the last in this series of holidays this month, so very little work is done as a result. In a week we will have Simchat Torah, when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. On that day, the weekly reading of the Torah starts all over again. It is a very joyful festival as the Torah scrolls are marched through the streets. But about that another time.

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