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Chag Sameach from a new home…

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BENITA LEVIN

It’s heart-warming to know that many customs and traditions are marked in much the same way, wherever we are. But, there are also some stark differences:

Why are the streets closed?

We’ve always associated street closures with an accident, protest action or festive parade. So, the closure of streets during the Yom Kippur fast, seemed a surprising move. Yom Kippur in South Africa was the one chag when our young children used to stay home, leaving the adults time to focus and reflect in the synagogue.

Here, children of all ages are out in their droves, making the most of this time – from sunset to sunset – by walking, cycling, roller-blading, or riding scooters in the roads. You can even see parents pushing prams on highways. It feels like the country has come to a standstill – no cars, buses or taxis. Just thousands of people either in shuls, or spending time outdoors.

What is causing this traffic jam?

A friend sent an SMS to advise us to avoid parts of the main road in Ra’anana. He wasn’t sure why there was a traffic backlog on Ahuza Street. Was it a bumper-bashing? Maybe roadworks? No? Palm leaves were being cut off trees in the middle of the road, and residents had come out in their droves to collect “shcach” for their sukkahs.

These outdoor dwellings range in size from those on tiny balconies with two chairs, to the garden version that caters for several families. It feels as though everyone is somehow connected during Sukkot, regardless of your level of observance.

The standard greeting is ‘Chag Sameach’

It’s heartwarming to hear a range of people greet you with the words “Chag Sameach”, including the security guard at a mall, the butcher and strangers in the street. It still makes me smile when I hear an array of accents — including people from France, Russia and Argentina – who are all using the same greeting. It seems like it’s the standard phrase over this period, and it feels like we’re surrounded by people who are celebrating together.

Women delivering speeches from inside an Orthodox shul?

The last time I delivered a speech from inside a synagogue, was at our batmitzvah ceremony in Durban, with 11 other girls… some decades ago! I’ve been lucky enough to speak in the past at many community events in shul halls or nearby venues.

But when I was asked to speak inside the synagogue on a Saturday morning after the shul service, as part of a TED-talk style event, I must admit to being surprised. The four speakers included two women. We each spoke on different topics from the pulpit downstairs in an Orthodox synagogue. An interesting and refreshing new normal.

 

Friends who start to feel like family… from all over the world

The hardest part of celebrating chaggim in a new country, is being away from your immediate family and close friends. In South Africa, our parents and siblings live in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. We were always in one of those three cities for the main festivals.

Rosh Hashanah this year was spread over three days, because of Shabbat. We were blessed to be asked to different people, who all welcomed us into their homes, in the same way they had been welcomed by fellow olim when they were new in town. An incredible honour to spend time with new friends who are already starting to feel like family…

Smile of the week

Walking in Jerusalem during the Shabbat of Sukkot and bumping into friends from South Africa and London – we spent the afternoon catching up in a sukkah in a nearby park. 

Moment of the week

While visiting the Kotel over that Shabbat, a Danish man approached us while walking back through the bustling Mamilla Mall, to say he was visiting with a Christian organisation, and he just wanted to offer us a blessing for peace.

New food discovery

Dates stuffed with walnuts or pecan nuts or any nuts. Addictive.

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