Each year I wish a warm welcome to the many olim who have made the move to Israel and joined us in the aliyah adventure. I even try to list the Five Towns/Long Island families that I know by name. Last year, in listing the families, I omitted one family who joined our shul with their move to Israel. I left them off the list because they were on a "trial year" and did not arrive as olim.
Last Thursday, at our hachnassat sefer Torah (more on this later), I was reminded about this family and my commitment to include them in this year's list if they made aliyah. And I forgot to do so in my article a couple of weeks ago.
So I am especially pleased to wish a special mazal tov to Aaron and Aliza Miller and their family upon their aliyah this summer. Formerly from West Hempstead, they joined us last year and have been such an integral part of our shul and community, I had simply forgotten that they were on a trial and only made the move permanent as of this summer.
As with many other chagim or events, our approach to Rosh Hashanah is quite different here in Israel. In addition to its status as the New Year and the almost universal recognition of it as such among all walks of Jews here, it is also the only guaranteed two-day holiday in Israel and is looked at with a sense of unusual anticipation.
Our preparations are unique as well. For instance, consider the simanim that we eat on the first night with dinner. These are fairly easy to get in the U.S. All you have to do is head to the local supermarket and pick up fresh samples of any of the vegetables on the list. Leeks, carrots, beets, black-eyed peas, squash, etc. They are all available almost continually throughout the year.
That is not the case here. As I have written before, in Israel, if a fruit or vegetable is not in season, it is not available. The only way to get something out of season is to buy it frozen or canned. Some of them (like black-eyed peas this year) sometimes cannot be found at all, and we do without.
We also have huge competition here between supermarkets, all clamoring for a piece of the very lucrative two-day holiday grocery bill. I remember this as a practice around Pesach in the U.S. With a purchase above a set amount, you were entitled to five pounds of matzah for free, which makes sense and is tied in to the holiday very nicely.
Here in Israel, the promotions were also tied in to the holiday. Goldie got two free bags of apples (great for dipping in honey) as well as a honey cake from various shopping trips to Supersol in Bet Shemesh. I think they were also offering free honey as an option, but we had bought our honey at a 50 percent discount the week before in a different sale. Another store gave us a four-pack of Pepsi Max (no connection to Rosh Hashanah, but still free).
Rosh Hashanah is also a major school milestone here. The week after Rosh Hashanah is the preferred time for back-to-school night in all the schools (we had four of them this week). It marks the time that the learning is turned up a notch and is the final preparation for the major academic period that begins after Sukkot and runs through Pesach.
It also marked a major milestone for our shul. Having completed our first year as a kehillah, one of our members, Rabbi Menachem Alfasi (a native-born Israeli who serves as a rabbi in the IDF) and his family presented the shul with our first sefer Torah. It was completed only days before Rosh Hashanah, so on Thursday night, the last night of the year, we held a gala hachnassat sefer Torah in the shul.
The final letters of the sefer were written at Rabbi Rosner's home, and almost everyone who attended was able to add this special mitzvah to their account that night (even the policemen who came to secure the route for the procession to the shul were invited in and honored with the writing of a letter and joined in the singing and dancing on the way to the shul).
The sofer was very patient and allowed the children to watch as he wrote each letter (at the event, Goldie commented to me that our shul has a tremendous number of children).
We danced to the shul and enjoyed a terrific reception there, with divrei Torah from several rabbanim and a tremendous sense of togetherness. As we grow and more people move to the neighborhood and come to the shul, we have an increasingly greater sense of belonging to something that has great potential. We just need to further develop the land and make more housing available for our families.
On that note, I have to add that things have been quite settled lately. While there are occasional demonstrations from one group or another, there has been a pretty good sense of quiet and patience in the neighborhood.
A new development is opening up in Ramat Bet Shemesh Gimmel, which will be equally divided (designated housing use) by all segments of Bet Shemesh society-non-religious, religious-Zionist, and chareidi. The equal division will provide for the maintenance of the demographic status quo for the time being, which is really the main goal (of my community at least).
As a matter of fact, a further all-chareidi development was put on hold because an ancient burial ground was discovered at the site and the Antiquities Department has to spend several years examining it. So for now, we are hopeful that we will continue to build bridges with the neighbors and continue to coexist without the complications that have cropped up from time to time.
On a personal level, we still have to figure out what we will be doing long-term. Our lease ends next summer and we already know that we will need to move out. We hope that the development we had originally committed to will be somehow resurrected, so that we can remain in the place where we have developed roots. That remains to be seen.
It rained here on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (which was probably not so good for the grape growers, but great for the rest of us). Mordechai ran out to dance in the rain in the middle of davening. Hopefully, this was a sign of a good and healthy rainy season-something which we need. The Kinneret Lake is at -214.195, still 85 centimeters above the dreaded Black Line (which it looks like we will thankfully not reach this year).
I wish you and your families all a g'mar chatimah tovah-may we all have an easy and meaningful fast as we watch the Kohein Gadol perform the Yom Kippur avodah in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash.