How does one even begin to describe a Rosh Hashanah morning service in Jerusalem? This is a day where even the least observant of Jews will make the trek to Beit Knesset (Synagogue) to pray. Once inside the Synagogue you notice people from every generation; the, what I like to call, Pre-1948 generation made up a significant portion of my congregation, while there were plenty of people my parents age, and a few young couples with their infants and toddlers. People filled the whole Shul, the men were wrapped up in their prayer shawls, the older women were in their suits and head scarves, and the young mothers were praying with a Siddur (prayer book) in one hand and their babies in the other. I looked around and felt like everyone was family, and, as I looked at the young families, I couldn't help but get excited that one day (don't worry mom and dad not for a while) I will be in Beit Knesset with my husband wrapped in his prayer shawl.
When I first arrived and Shul, the Chazzan (Cantor) was in the middle of the morning service, and I couldn't help but notice his gorgeous voice. I think he might have been from Yemen because he had that Eastern sound (Mizrahi as they say in Israel). As the services continued the whole Temple was filled with the beautiful sound of our prayers, and when it was time to sing the Avinu Malkeinu, you couldn't help but get the chills. If Jews do nothing else on Rosh Hashanah, it is very important for us to hear the blowing of the Shofar; it is a great mitzvah (good deed), and something that should not be missed. For those of you who don't know what a Shofar is, it is the horn of a ram used in Jewish services and ceremonies.
After such a passionate and wonderful service, it was profound to feel the silence of the congregation as we listened to the blowing of the shofar. A man my Zayde's age had the honor of performing the blowing of the Shofar, and it was so amazing to see him do it all 4 of the times it is done during the service. At around 1:30, after services were over, I met up with a family I had the pleasure of meeting last night, and they invited me to their home for lunch after services. Everyone who knew I didn't have family here, and didn't have plans to have holiday meals out, were so willing to invite me to their homes if they had room. Since I can't be with my own family, it was so nice to be with a local Jewish family eating a traditional holiday lunch. I was at their home until about 4:30, and then had to make my way back to East Jerusalem.
It is so interesting that even though East Jerusalem is only about 5 minutes away from where I was, I felt like I was leaving my world and returning to a place so foreign. I maybe be completely enthralled with Arab life and culture, but it is not my own. For as interested as I am in their world, I am that much more in love with my own. A major part of our Rosh Hashanah sermon was the Rabbi talking about how Abraham, a man of 100 years, and Sarah, a woman of 90, gave birth to a son who, in turn, gave birth to a new nation; the nation of Israel. It filled me with such pride knowing that I am a descendant of that chosen nation, praying, on this high holiday, in our holy city.
I got back to the hotel, ordered some dinner, and spent the rest of the night relaxing. Who would have thought that praying all day would make you so tired. I guess it is all of the "please rise", "please sit" that goes on :-D. All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Tomorrow will be another day used to utilize some down time, since Saturday is my big trip to the West Bank. I want to be sure I'm nice and rested for the journey! I'll probably explore more of East Jerusalem, maybe go to the Old City, and just take it easy.
Until Tomorrow :-),