The five senses of Sukkot.

Sukkot gets a bad rap.  It’s tough because it comes right after the High Holies of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, so people get sick of the physical aspects of the season, eating feasts and lying low.

But Sukkot has so much to it; the holiday is part of the Shalosh Regalim (three pilgrimage festivals). While it may not be as easy to identify with the spirituality of this holiday as it is for the other two, Pessach and Shavuot, as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Sukkot does have this amazing ability to stimulate all five senses – the power to bring holiness to your physical being.

This is especially true here in Jerusalem. It might be why I appreciate it so much, now more than ever.

Sound: As soon as Yom Kippur goes out and the fast has been broken, you can hear the banging from down the block. This year is the first year I’m spending Sukkot in my neighborhood of Katamonim, and to hear all the noise coming from my neighbors was, for once, a proud thing for me. Nothing is more pleasant than hammers against nails and wood on Motzei Yom Kippur.

Sight: Then, to wake up the next day and see all the sukkot started the night before – and to watch families decorate them – is a powerful thing.

Taste: At each meal over Sukkot, we are still dipping our challot in honey, carrying the sweetness of the new year to the end of the holiday period. By now, the honey has become normal on the taste buds, and hopefully it will stay that way for the rest of the year.

Touch: I love the way the lulav feels against my finger tips… It has this magic of being soft and inviting and sharp and distant all at once. It is how I imagine God on Yom Kippur, and it’s nice to have some linkage between the holidays.

Smell: There is nothing in this world, created by God or not, that smells better than the first etrog you put to your nose around September.

Chag sameach everyone!

Gmar chatima tova.

Yom Kippur starts in a few hours; ideally I wouldn’t be lounging around and writing this, but nothing is ideal. I’ll go start mincha (afternoon prayers) in a few… Mincha of erev Yom Kippur is my favorite prayer of the whole year. It is something about the fact that it is still a regular day, but it’s also the moments right before the holiest of holy days.  So it’s kind of like, no pressure – yet, and then you say this really in depth prayer with pieces of Yom Kippur sprinkled in. It’s also, for me, the first time I get serious since the year started nine days ago.

I’m not the only one getting serious, though. Israeli-run TV stations get very serious and shut down their programming until Yom Kippur is over. I suppose it’s partly because of the spirit of the day and also because the employees need to go do their thing as well.

Gmar chatima tova – May you be signed and sealed for good things.

Learn to read in Hebrew for free.

UPDATE (2011): Found another excellent resource for learning Hebrew online for free…

I just came across the website of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which I’ve never heard of before. It seems like a great resource though, for North American Jews who want to become more affiliated and educated in their Judaism.

What caught my eye, though, was this: Read Hebrew America/Canada. The free Hebrew reading course is described as such:

READ HEBREW AMERICA/CANADA (RHA/C) is NJOP’s mega Hebrew literacy campaign to win back the hearts of North American Jews. The Annual RHA/C will take place during the months of October and November! RHA/C invites tens-of-thousands of Jewish adults into synagogues and Jewish centers throughout the United States and Canada to foster Jewish identity and create awareness about the importance of Hebrew literacy by running Hebrew Reading Crash Courses Level I or II or One Day Reviews.

If you can’t make it to learn with the course, try getting familiar with the aleph-bet on your own; there is an interactive aleph-bet to learn the Hebrew letters. If you are making aliyah soon and have absolutely no background, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself a bit before the leap.

The site has some other great features like:


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Celebrate 5768 with some more fruit.

You know the drill.

And here is an obligational photo of fruits, somehow associated with completing one year and bringing in the new one:

fruit new year


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Aliyah Reason #243: Kosher Ikea.

You know you’re getting old when you’re perfectly happy spending your birthday at Ikea with your husband and mother.Kosher Ikea Israel

Ikea in Israel (currently located in Netanya, but coming soon to a Rechovot lot near you) is… pretty much the same experience as Ikea in Newark and anywhere else for that matter. Cheap apartment furniture, capitalistic indulgence, pretending to be an interior designer.

Except – the cafeteria is kosher, which, I guess, is reason #243 why we make aliyah.

People-watching in a mirror.

Waiting for my mom at the airport this morning, I got to engage in the curious ritual that is people-watching. Airport arrival halls are the best places to people-watch.

This pre-holiday Friday morning was even more interesting.

One family particularly stood out to me. I watched a middle-aged couple – probably around my mother’s age – walk out through the sliding doors of customs and scan the crowd. At one point the woman smiled enormously and began waving. A youngish couple – maybe in their late 20s – waved back with similar smiles and began walking towards them. The mother and daughter embraced wildly (because now it was clear, these were the young woman’s parents) while the father and son-in-law patted backs. Questions were flung around and the family, reunited, as they walked off towards the exit.

The family was speaking American English. The scene was so familiar to me, I wanted to cry.

The daughter made aliyah, maybe a few years ago. She met another Anglo oleh and they decided to literally build a bayit ne’aman b’Yisroel. Her parents had either never been to Israel or had visited only once or twice before she made aliyah; they are still a bit awkward about coming here. But they come – maybe once every other year when their adult children don’t visit the States.

The woman reminded me of my own mother so much, and the daughter was all me. I’m not alone in this world of aliyah; I never thought I was but sometimes it’s hard to remember, even when surrounded by other olim.

I held back my tears and turned back to the sliding doors, waiting for my mom and already smiling.


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Overheard in the (Jerusalem) office.

At the start of the new year, perhaps it is important to take Redemption very seriously, especially on lunch breaks in the office:

Me: “I haven’t been to the Old City in so long. Man, I haven’t been to the Kotel in over a year. I wonder if it looks different.”

Coworker: “Oh yeah, there’s been lots of construction. I guess you didn’t hear, they are building a third Temple.”

Me: “Great, I hope they add air conditioning this time around. Will it be done soon, you think?”

Coworker: “It’s taking forever to build it. It’s actually been going on for over 2,000 years. They say it may take longer than the Jerusalem Light Rail…”

Energized in pre-sunrise.

It’s 4:22 am in Jerusalem. It’s freezing. I like it. The season is changing.

The summer is ending, and I’m ok with that. Frankly, it was a bit dull. I’m looking forward to shlav ha’ba, the next stage. For some reason, I have this feeling of excitement, that huge things are coming. Is it the last year of school? The possibility of moving outside Jerusalem? Travel?

Not sure, but with this freezing breeze blowing into my apartment, wrapping me up in hints of winter, I feel energized.