High Holy Days In the Holy Land
America is essentially a Christian nation. Yes, everyone has religious freedoms, but Jews and Muslims and Hindus don't automatically get off work on holidays. Finding matzah on Passover is sometimes hindered by the fact that grocery stores only have non-kosher for Passover matzah in stock (I didn't even know that was a thing until my recent struggles). Shopping for Chanukah candles is like trying to find a rare gem. Either stores don't stock enough or they don't stock them at all.
I could go on about the struggles of being a Jew in America, but I won't. I have freedoms that plenty of people around the world don't have. All I'm trying to say is that, in America, the holidays never really feel like holidays. Saying "happy new year" to other Jews in September is like an inside joke that only the Tribe understands. In Israel, though, things are different.
A few days before Rosh Hashanah, the market is crazy with everyone trying to do get all their holiday shopping done before everything shuts down for three days (two days of Rosh Hashanah leading into Shabbat). Whenever you make a purchase or ask someone a question, the conversation either starts or ends (or both) with everyone saying "shanah tovah" (happy new year). Everyone is making plans and visiting family and preparing dinner. The whole country is getting ready to shut down. There is an air here surrounding Rosh Hashanah that I have never experienced in the States. I finally felt what Christians in America feel during Christmas-time. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like an outsider.
I spent Rosh Hashanah in Rishon LeTsiyon (a city just south of Tel Aviv) with my friend Shani and her family. They took me in like I was one of their own and treated me to one of the best Rosh Hashanahs I can remember. They housed me, fed me, took me to the Dead Sea, and drove me back home. They were wonderful, and I could not have asked for a better way to spend my holiday.
In America, I'm used to having dinner the night Rosh Hashanah begins, followed by services. Then, the next day, I spend a few more hours at services. In Israel, though, Rosh Hashanah truly is a celebration of the new year. I ate a ton of food, lounged around the house, went to the beach, and went out a night for drinks with new friends.
Rosh Hashanah is always a great holiday. Who doesn't love some New Year's celebrations? In Israel, though, it's a country-wide celebration, and it's an experience I will treasure forever.