I remember my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel 3 years ago. I had just moved 8,000 miles away from home, I hardly spoke the language at all, I was living in Jerusalem all by myself working for the Palestine-Israel journal, and I walked around the city on Erev Rosh Hashanah until I found a synagogue where I could attend services (an anglo synagogue). After services I was planning on going back to my East Jerusalem apartment, preparing a little meal of whatever I had in the house, and spending the holiday alone. I wasn’t sad about it, but the harsh reality was that I was a new immigrant in a country where I didn’t know anyone. Luckily at synagogue a nice American family found me and took me home with them for the holiday meal. It was a really wonderful experience.
This year was quite different. I have a home here now, I speak the language, I have a fantastic group of friends, and I have an entire Israeli family that makes any occasion or celebration an event to remember. This New Year was no exception, but it didn’t come without some snags in the beginning. I knew that we would be going to Ashdod for the holiday, but I didn’t know that Stephane and his family were planning on staying overnight to partake in the celebrations the day after as well. As fun as this sounded I have a little puppy who definitely can’t be left alone for more than 8-9 hours at the most, and who wasn’t exactly invited to partake in the celebrations. I thought that I might be thrust into a similar situation that I was in three years ago of fending for myself and finding a group of lone immigrants in Tel Aviv to celebrate with, which would have been so unfortunate seeing as I now have an Israeli family which means I don’t have to be alone on holidays! Luckily Gloria (Stephane’s mom) has wonderful sisters who set up a situation that would be appropriate for us and the dog! A few hours later we packed up the car and the five of us (Stephane, Gloria, the little brother, the puppy, and me) were off to Ashdod!
When we arrived we just had time to get the dog settled in at one of Stephane’s uncle’s houses, and then we were off to the grandparent’s apartment to participate in the big holiday dinner. Because we arrived a bit early we ended up letting Gloria and some of her sisters finish up with the cooking while Stephane, Michael (the little brother), and I went to the big synagogue around the corner to pick up Stephane’s grandfather and help him home. As I watched all of the men exit the synagogue after services I felt a pain of sadness because I missed you so terribly much. As I saw each child embrace his grandfather, and as I watched Stephane and Michael with theirs, I wished that it was one year ago when we were all home in California with you for the holidays. I still can’t believe you won’t be waiting for me when I get home this year. I had to use every ounce of strength to hold back tears, but soon the sadness passed and only happy thoughts of you remained.
When we arrived back to the apartment it was time for the before meal prayers to begin followed by a feast that, quite literally, could have fed a small third world country. During the prayers for a sweet, new year we had the traditional apples and honey
round Challah to signify the year completing itself full circle and beginning again
The pomegranate to signify the 613 commandments we, as Jews, have to follow (and also because it is just so delicious and very healthy!)
and… the meat from a fish head to signify the start (head) of the new year… This particular tradition was a new one for me, though it is very popular. The weirdest part was actually taking the meat from inside the intact head.
Once the prayers and noshing were done it was time to dig into the meal consisting of every kind of salad you can imagine, the most tender of lambs meat, potatoes, pasta, Moroccan white fish, and more. As the rest of the night progressed it was filled with eating, laughing, drinking, and listening to Stephane’s grandparents and uncle talk about life in Morocco. Sometimes they would get so wrapped up in a story they would forget they were in Israel and they would switch to speaking Arabic. It’s what I love most about Stephane’s family; everything I love about Arabic culture (the language, the music, the food), combined with everything I love about Judaism. I chuckled to myself as they were speaking Arabic because so much of the world thinks that Israel is a country full of Europeans who came to escape the bitter antisemitism of Europe after the Holocaust. They couldn’t be more wrong. As a European I am actually in the minority in Israel, as 66% or more of Israelis originate from Arab or Muslim lands. Arab Jewry is filled with such fascinating, rich traditions, and I consider myself so lucky to be an adopted member of this culture (soon a member by marriage with God’s help).
At around 11pm, when the majority of guests had slipped deep into a food coma, it was time to head back to where we were staying, take the dog out for a walk, and then get to bed. Jasper did just fine being home alone, but he was so happy to see us when we returned. His daddy Stephane even let him sleep on the bed with us which was the best holiday treat for both me and the puppy!
The next day arrived all too quickly, and though I was still full from the night before, it was time to participate in another big holiday meal before returning to Tel Aviv. SO MUCH FOOD! I actually managed to sneak a picture of the table this time because the night before, during the holiday, it was too much to take out phones. Luckily his family is pretty relaxed so not only could I get a picture in, but Stephane’s uncle decided to play very festive Mizrahi music as we ate our holiday lunch. I was in heaven!
Then the food came and I was able to add another item of food to my list of things I never in a million years would have thought I would EVER eat. On today’s menu was COW BRAINS… Very much NOT wanting to try it, and also very much not wanting to be rude, I put my food issues aside and decided to take the plunge. I figured I had the same feelings when it came to eating tongue which I am now obsessed with, so, who knows, maybe I would have a similar experience with brains. Well… I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t throw up so I take that as a win, and I’m sure everyone in my family is very proud that I at least tried it! Now I never have to eat it again just like tomatoes and chopped liver :-)! This isn’t a picture of the brains we ate because my camera wasn’t working, but it looks almost exactly the same.
After the meal we spent a little time chatting with Stephane’s grandmother, who, of course, had to bring up that she was anxiously awaiting Stephane’s wedding (as am I!), and then we headed back to pick up Jasper, round up our things, and then head back to Tel Aviv. It was such a wonderful holiday, but we were all very happy to get home (especially prince Jassy). Now we have 3 more days of weekend to enjoy, followed by one more full work week to get ourselves ready for Yom Kippur, a 25 hour fast, and a whole lot of repenting! We also have a big birthday to celebrate next Wednesday as Mr. Stephane will finally be turning 26!
I miss you every second of every day, friend, and I love you forever and always.
Until we meet again <3,