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Homey comparisons from the homeland

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My gap year has been filled with firsts – my first free Shabbos, my first bus ride alone, my first class. Soon I will experience another first – my first Rosh Hashanah away from my family.

The high holidays are a big deal in my home. My mother spends hours cooking, the delicious smell of meat and spices filling the air for days. Family members are in and out, delivering gifts and contributions to the meal up until the last minute.

My sister and I sit every night going through outfits, shoes, divrei Torah. My cousins and I chat on WhatsApp excitedly, so happy at the prospect of spending time together.

Last year, that experience was snatched away from us by COVID-19. I was particularly upset by this because I knew that, even if my family could see each other this year, I wouldn’t be able to spend it with them.

I would be here in Israel, so far from the family traditions I adore so much. G-d had other plans. My family will spend Rosh Hashanah alone again, mourning the sudden loss of my beloved grandfather and wishing we could all be together again around one table.

I’ll most likely be in a large eating hall, surrounded by hundreds of girls from around the world, eating copious amounts of challah and honey while pining for home.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. To be in Israel during the high holidays is incredible. The energy is electric as bakeries begin pouring out dozens of round challot, fruit vendors in the shuk shout that their apples will be the best this year, and hundreds of women and children fill clothing shops in search of a new dress or some jewellery.

The Kotel is filled every day for a month with people begging Hashem for mercy and forgiveness during Elul, the ultimate preparation for getting sealed in the Book of Life.

My seminary is buzzing with shiurim about tikkun olam, loving your fellow Jew, and the power of forgiveness. It’s an experience unlike any other, and I’m so excited to be here at this time.

The phrase “home is where the heart is” rings particularly true for me this year. My heart is torn between two places – South Africa and Israel – the two places in which I feel truly at home.

While I wish I could spend yom tov with my family’s warm hugs and delicious food, I’m ecstatic at the thought of spending it surrounded by my friends and the incredible Torah I’m lucky enough to learn every day.

I miss the bustle of the Glenhazel strip, but I’m loving watching the throngs of people walking up from the Kotel every day.

My mind is full of homey comparisons and gratitude. I’m grateful to have such positive, warm memories of my South African yamim tovim, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to create new memories of an Israeli-style chag.

So much has changed in my life this year, yet it amazes me how so much stays the same, no matter where we are or who we are with. The traditions that bind us as Jews run deep and consistent, providing a nurturing safety net wherever we may find ourselves.

Wishing everyone a shana tova umetukah from the holy land!

  • Dani Sack is on Bnei Akiva’s MTA gap year programme studying at Midreshet Harova seminary in Jerusalem.

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