Greeks learn in order to comprehend.
Hebrews learn in order to revere.

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October...a month of Celebration!

Well, the past month has been quite festive because of the many Jewish holidays. The month of October started with Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. This is basically two days of celebration, time with family and friends, and reflection of what God has done over the last year. It also commences the high holy days leading up to Yom Kippur. For the first ten days of the month, every Jew analyzes and searches their heart to see if they have wronged anyone and still need to ask for forgiveness. It is also a time of great repentance for any personal sins. It is also a time to forgive others that have wronged you.

These ten days are the window of time that each Jew has to make all right in their own heart. For a very righteous person, it is believed that God grants entry into the book of life on the New Year. Likewise, for the very wicked person, God rejects one from the book of life. For everyone in between, it depends on what is done during the ten days before Yom Kippur. On that day, God will judge everyone on what they have done for the year and either grant or reject entry into God’s book of life. (As most of you know, we believe Jesus is the key to entry into God’s kingdom. No matter how righteous or wicked, we all need Christ. What I admire about this season is how seriously the Jews take making amends during this period. Just think of what a better place the world would be if we could all sincerely seek out forgiveness in ourselves and extend it graciously to others. That would be beautiful!)

Literally everything in Israel is closed on Yom Kippur (even the airport) and absolutely no one drives, works, etc. The children love it because they do not yet have to recognize and participate in the rituals so they all love to ride their bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc. right in the middle of the street. It really is a big treat! We all went to a Jewish synagogue service the night of Yom Kippur and overheard this conversation: “(mom)…The kids just can’t wait to get home because they all brought their bikes to ride…(daughter)….Yeah! In the middle of the street!” And as we walked home, there were children of all ages all over the streets! It was cool. We’ve also heard that it’s one of the worst days for children’s accidents and injuries which also makes sense. We saw a young girl crash on her bike just outside our apartment and her friends were consoling her.

After Yom Kippur, another celebration begins. For five days, everyone prepares for the festival of Sukkoth by building sukkoth…aka temporary dwellings outside of their homes. If you read Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29, you will read all about this festival. For the most part, the traditions and sacraments are pretty much the same. It is very interesting for me to read these sections of the Bible and experience people practicing exactly what is commanded. The animal sacrifices are not so much practiced anymore, but most other things are. Many of our neighbors built sukkoth outside and wherever we walked, it was neat to see the various types. All were built from natural elements and outside but the shapes, colors, décor was all different.

After the five days of preparation, the festival of Sukkoth began. For eight days, the city celebrated how God was with the Israelites in the desert. It is a time of remembrance that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt into the promiseland. So, during this time, all sorts of things are happening. People celebrate with family by visiting, talking, and dwelling outside in their sukkoth. Brad and I enjoyed sitting on our balcony and listening to our neighbors visit. There was the parade of nations where people from all around the world marched in a parade through the streets of Jerusalem. The Bible speaks of all the nations coming to Jerusalem for this festival and the parade is a representation of that. There were also concerts, singing and dancing, and even a circus—which we attended.

The circus was more like a big fair with street performers, clowns, acrobats, and of course—cotton candy! We went to a show that was one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen. I’m not going to do it justice by describing it but I’ll try. It was dark outside and performed in a small outdoor theater. There was one male and one female dancer and they used a combination of neon lights, neon ropes, balls, and just each other. They performed a sort of contemporary dance style but used the things I mentioned above as part of the routine. In one section of the dance, the two remained attached almost entirely but went through a series of different lifts, motions, and maneuvers that almost made it seem as though they were a machine with all the pieces churning and working together. At another section, it was as if they were fighting through a wall of ropes and twisting and turning to get free, and as they did, the neon ropes would form different shapes such as a flower, tree, etc. At another section, they danced with the balls in a ways that made them seem as if they were floating. Still another section, the man moved and positioned the woman as if she was robotic or statue-like and she just assumed whatever position he put her in. Like I said, I didn’t do it justice but we all loved it! Denyon was glued in the whole time and it was so cool to watch him watch the dancers. It’s amazing how even at such a young age our minds can be so fascinated.

The festival concluded on the eight day with lots of celebrating, dancing, and reciting Torah at the Western Wall as well as at a park in town. We decided to go to the park conclusion and ended up getting to hear both the president of Israel and the Chief Rabbi of Israel speak briefly. I regret that I don’t remember either of their names, but it was neat to be a part of it. There was lots of loud music and dancing in between the speech sections and it was a great experience for us.

Sounds like quite a month, huh? It was and I’ve definitely never been a part of nearly a month long holiday. There were more days when businesses were closed than open it seemed. We feel blessed to be a part of such a great celebration and thankful to experience this culture firsthand. Like they say, it’s all part of the experience!

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