Shalom and Welcome to this week’s In Israel Blog
The High Holiday season is now well and truly here. The long three day weekend of Rosh HaShana is behind us with the drama of Yom Kippur almost upon us and the fun and excitement of Succot just around the corner. There is a very special atmosphere here in Israel everybody greets each other with some variation of Happy New Year greetings. The shops are full of Chag (festival) essentials (and non essentials) and there is a general feeling of national festivities.
I visited the Kotel on the evening between the first and second days of Rosh HaShana – it has a very special atmosphere of prayer, song and dance. The Kotel is busy but, not too packed and there is a wide variety of prayer traditions to choose from. It was also particularly popular with visitors of other faiths.
Check out our Guide to Succot Events in Israel – we are working on adding new information right through to the Chag.
One of the most surprising aspects of the season is that on Yom Kippur traffic stops almost completely throughout Israel (with the exception of essential services and in non Jewish towns.) Yom Kippur really does turn into a national day of peace and contemplation – even the traffic lights are switched off and it is a Yom Kippur tradition in many families to walk to prayers along the white lines down the center of the road! (There are also a tremendous number of bikes.)
One of the perennial concerns is the weather – will it be hot on Yom Kippur making the fast harder, what will the weather be like on Succot – too hot or too wet in the Succah (the temporary booths that are part of the festival see the IsraelInsideOut Guide to Festivals for more details.) Well so far it has been perfect fall weather, bright, warm and dry. This seems to be the pattern at least until Yom Kippur. Long may it continue.
There has been a couple of exciting pieces of news in Israel over the past few days – five of the most complete Dead Sea Scrolls are now available on line – and so far have been visited by more than a million people – a joint project of the Israel Museum and Google. They are absolutely fascinating and the image quality is excellent and fast. (See Dead Sea Scrolls On Line.)
Today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Professor Daniel Shechtman of the Technion – Mazal Tov.
At this time of year one of the very popular activities is to go on a Selichot Tour. Selichot are extra prayers and poems recited in the very early hours between midnight and just after dawn to seek Divine forgiveness. There are many different versions in the different Jewish communities and the atmosphere in each is varied and unique. On a selichot tour you will find a cross section of religious and not religious, some guided by friends, some on organized tours (school or office trips) all visiting different synagogues to see and experience the different styles of prayers. The local residents hate the tours, the all night cafes love them and they provide ample employment for students who want to re-enact legendary figures and pivotal moments from the past for the benefit of enhancing the experience of the selichot tourists.
Some of the most popular neighborhoods are the Old City of Safed and the Old City of Jerusalem – ending the tour at the Kotel (Western Wall.) For this week’s recommendation we recommend you take some time to visit these areas whether in the early hours or later in the day and absorb the atmosphere.
Tradition holds that the righteous are written in the book of life at the beginning of Rosh HaShana – by Yom Kippur all that remains is to seal them in the book. So the traditional greeting is Gmar Hatima Tova- May You Have A Good and Final Sealing (in the Book of Life). IsraelInsideOut wishes all our readers, partners and all of Israel – A Gmar Hatima Tova.
Le’Hitraot from Jerusalem