My Shnekel: High Holidays – High Emotions

Last year, Rotem and I moved here, to Fairfax, for this Shlichut chapter. Today, exactly a year later, we are spending the same Rosh Hashanah back in Israel, surrounded by family and friends. And for some reason, even though we are home, we are still missing home. Even though it’s only been a year, we settled in and got used to it. In the passing year, we missed our family and friends back in Israel, and now that we’re here, a little part of us misses the home there, across the pond. Strange feeling, attachment, and what you eventually find yourself attached to. But it does tell you a lot about the place, how welcoming everyone was, and how lovely the community is, that after only one year we’re already missing it.

But let’s not focus on that. I want to share with you a little bit about the High holidays in Israel, and how they compare to the US. Think about a place where being Jewish makes you the majority. The resting day of the week is Shabbat, and everyone gets a day off during High holidays. School is off, shops are closed, so there’s very few options for those who don’t celebrate the holidays. On Yom Kippur itself, roads, even highways, are empty. Israel TV isn’t transmitting on that day, no radio either. Kids drive around on bikes, rolling down highways. That is definitely something a person must experience at least once.

How does that make sense, in a country where the majority of its population is secular? According to the central bureau of statistics, 2022, 75% of Israel’s citizens identify as Jewish. Out of that, 45% of them identify as secular, the largest group. 25% identify as traditional, 16% as very religious and 14% as Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox). Maybe the tides have shifted, but that has been the case for quite a while now. How does it make sense, that a religious country (a Jewish state for the Jewish people) that has a favorable religion, with a majority of the secular population, still have that level of participation in religious ceremonies? It’s probably odd to someone not from Israel to imagine. Or, if you’d never visited Israel as well.

To me, the missing link here, is the growing notion that Jewish isn’t just a religious belief. In Israel, and to an extent in the US as well, Judaism is also an ethnicity, a culture. And the one in Israel has evolved to a national narrative. You don’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah just because you believe it’s the beginning of the Jewish year. You do so also because that’s an Israeli thing to do. It’s because you’re expected to participate as a member of the society.  And with the current political climate that pushes toward polarization and divides the democratic and the Jewish, it’s also rupturing the social fabric that has been constructed, since it’s relying on both.

Or maybe, it is that crucial debate we kept postponing for so long. Maybe we’ve finally hit the point where we must make a resolution that will eventually dictate the guidelines to balance those two conflicting natures. I keep saying that the Jewish Agency is paying me to remain Optimistic. But in this case, after spending a few weeks here in Israel, I’m more optimistic than ever.

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