Rosh Hashanah Around the World

Shanah Tovah everyone!

It’s been a month since I got here and already I feel that I’m a part of our wonderful community. As you all know, the high holidays are here, and we’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah. This time, my blog will be dedicated to my personal experiences celebrating Rosh Hashanah all around the world.

In Israel, you can feel that Rosh Hashanah “is in the air” a month before the actual date. The small talk would be- “so, where are you going for the holiday?”, “planning any vacation?” You say “Shanah Tovah” to everyone you see, share recipes and search for the traditional-and-yet-trendy kind of dish to WOW all the guests. Another big difference between the holidays in Israel and everywhere else in the world is the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. On erev Rosh Hashanah all the stores and public places shut down early. Everyone is getting ready. Here in the states… it’s just another normal day.

One of the highlights is the dinner, and oh! We have so much food. The custom in my family is to have the dinner in Jerusalem with my uncle, aunt and the whole family. Rosh Hashanah for me is mostly about the gathering, seeing everyone and spending time together.

In 2007, I travelled to Mexico during the holidays. Like normal Israelis, my friends and I planned our trip so we would be in a big city for Rosh Hashanah. The rumors about what’s there to do for Rosh Hashanah in Cancun spread out among the Israeli travelers real quick. We found ourselves, a delegation of 10 people that my friend and I just met, making our way to Hilton Cancun!! I never thought I could be in such a fancy hotel while backpacking. Chabad of Cancun arranged a nice traditional dinner for all the Jewish travelers (and there are so many!) and local community, with a little service at the beginning. I still haven’t been to a Chabad event in the States but I can tell you one thing about Chabad in exotic places like Mexico- it’s a very happy place to be! Everyone sings, drinks, dances, drinks, eats and drinks some more!

Just one year later I found myself traveling again on Rosh Hashanah. This time I was in Costa Rica. Once again the rumors were spreading fast and we heard of an event in a small surfer’s town called Santa Teresa. Each year, a group of Israelis who live there invite all the Israeli backpackers to celebrate with them in a hotel owned by an Israeli. They ask all the backpackers to RSVP to their event so they know how many people to expect. In Israel everything is a bit less planned out and a bit more spontaneous, so it’s only natural that the Israeli backpackers wouldn’t plan exactly their holiday and just go with the flow… During the dinner people just kept on coming. It was really beautiful to see how everyone just found a way to get there (and oh it wasn’t so easy!) to be among other Israelis who wanted to feel the holiday spirit thousands of miles away from home.

Fast forward. It’s the holidays of 2014 and I’m away from home once again.

The holiday started when Carol Shapiro sent me a text: see you at our home at 6pm! I didn’t know what to expect. In Israel you never show up empty handed, also I love cooking so that I wanted to cook something to bring with me. Needless to say I had to work hard on convincing Carol that I’ll bring something with me. I arrived at their house and I swear they needed a valet over there! The last time I saw so many people celebrating the holiday was probably last Passover with my family in Israel! The food was amazing and the desserts even better. I think I’m still full after this meal.

Carol asked me was if I want to join them at services. As a secular person, I don’t normally go to services in Israel. We just say all the “Brachot” (greetings. If you want to see how my family does it in Israel please check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7_9XGXH5LA); so I thought it would be a great idea to experience a Reform Rosh Hashanah service for the first time. It was a rainy Thursday morning, and I could actually feel how special it was for everyone. The synagogue was already full, and it was just the early service. Although I don’t usually go to services, that experience was great and it will stay with me for a long time.

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Warm, if belated, welcome to Howard County, Maryland.

L'shanah tovah tikatayvah v'gmar chatma tovah.

Jonathan and Shulamit Finkelstein