Rosh haShana in lockdown

I had to write and share with all of you the atmosphere here in Susya right now. It is 10:00 a.m. on Friday morning, and Rosh haShanah begins tonight. The nation-wide closures for Corona begin at 2pm. The kids all morning have been running around delivering candies and notes, wishing their friends and classmates a Shana Tova. This is tradition here. And I don’t mean just my kids. ALL the kids in the village.

This one tradition, which has existed as long as we’ve been in Israel, is something that continues to warm my heart.

Growing up in Delaware, Rosh haShana was a little different.  We were a Conservative Jewish family. Rosh haShanah was celebrated by going to synagogue and having a fancy meal afterwards with family and friends. We got to miss school, too.

Here in Susya where everyone is Torah observant, things are a little different. There is emphasis on different things and the days leading up to Rosh HaShana are important. People PREPARE.

Slichot services, (Slichot means “pardon”) a musical performance where prayers are sung together with the audience, in different settings, has been going on here for the past week. There was a Slichot service outside last Saturday night, with colorful lights. There was a Slichot service done at the Ancient Synagogue in the Yatir Forest, with a Shofar and performers dressed from biblical times. My boys had a famous musician come to their yeshiva to lead Slichot. It is a time for reflection and forgiveness. Also chessed. This is the time to give.

People pay their debts. People apologize for past wrongs. Sometimes these conversations are intense,  one on one, face to face. I received a call from a teenager, asking forgiveness for Sometimes with a phone call or note; Nowadays some people use Facebook with a general “if I have wronged you, please forgive me.”

This morning, the children traditionally give notes and candies to each other, wishing each other a Sweet New Year. Because of new rules here, many families’ mailboxes are locked. That is the way children used to deliver these notes and candies. So now, they are going from house to house, walking all over the yishuv. Much like delivering shlach manot on Purim.

The lines at the market are long and people are bustling around cooking and making last-minute purchases. We will be “locked in” the yishuv for the next 3 weeks, observing Yom Kippur and then, Sukkot.

This year, it has been decided that the children will not be going “sukkah hopping” and they are disappointed.  This tradition, which exists in every Torah-observant community is similar to the “trick or treat” I grew up with with my secular friends on Halloween. Sukkah hopping is groups of friends visiting different families in the sukkahs on the first night of the Sukkot holiday; It is a big night!  Families are all prepared with different candies and sweets for the visiting children, and once the children reach each sukkah, they sit in the sukkah and listen to a   torah lesson, discussion on Sukkot, or  sing songs with the “elder” of the host family.  Each visit can last from a few minutes to much longer. Sometimes the family is alseep in the sukkah, and the children have to skip it. Sometimes, there are so many visitors, there is no room and no candy left.

The night often lasts until the early morning hours, children and teens all walking around the yishuv like gangs;  groups of kids congregate in the playground, the synagogue courtyard, the street corners. So this year my kids are disappointed as none of this traditional sukkah hopping will happen….but I told my kids not to worry, we will play games in our sukkah, and we will all stay up late with snacks and will be together.

After all….the best part of these holidays is being together. Shana Tova!

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