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Reesa Cohen Stone and family

Reesa Cohen Stone: A good and sweet year!!

by Reesa Cohen Stone September 13, 2012

For the L-rd G-d brings thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; / A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; / A land wherein you will eat bread without scarceness, you will not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you may dig brass."  Deuteronomy, 8:9

There are only two seasons in Israel, hot and less hot; or the corollary: hot and even hotter. There is no crispness in the air as the High Holidays approach, no mist in the morning air, no cold drizzle to mark the onset of autumn.

Just more hot weather.

Nonetheless, there is no mistaking the High Holiday season in Israel. Instead of having ‘Fall Sales’ (as there isn’t any fall) or ‘Back to School Sales (because either teacher strikes, rockets, or the whimsically change of the starting date of school without prior notification causes uncertainty as to when school is really going to start), all the stores have ‘Get ready for the Chagim (holidays) Sale!’ Every store does it because you need a new fridge for the chagim! Buy a new bed for your guests over the chagim! Apparently, to correctly celebrate our Holy Days, good Jews need new linens, new dishes, new deodorants, a new flavor of shampoo and obviously new clothes!

We have Back to Shul Specials!!

But where you really feel the approaching Holydays is in the shuk.

The Beer Sheva shuk has gone through several transformations in the last several years. Once, entirely open air, with no drainage systems, wilted leaves strewn on the ground and the smell of fish and spoiled vegetables everywhere, today it is entirely covered over, and one can walk without stepping into something one doesn’t care to step into.

Where once apples, oranges, and cabbages were almost the only produce available, today, the shuk, a pageant of colours and aromas one can almost feel, is filled with locally grown but exotic fruits and vegetables.

Most prominently displayed in the weeks before Rosh HaShana is the bright red king of fruits and one of the sheva minim (the seven species of the Holy Land mentioned in the Torah), the pomegranate. It is customary to eat pomegranates on Rosh HaShana because it is a symbol of righteousness; that Jews should do as many mitzvoth as there are seeds in a pomegranate.

Next to the rows of pomegranates are yellow dates and purple figs. Fresh figs bear absolutely no resemblance to the dried figs we used to get on Tu B’Shvat. They are, simply put, utterly delicious. Fresh dates cannot be eaten straight off the tree – they are too hard. They first have to be frozen and then defrosted before you can enjoy their squishy texture. Both dates and figs are also of the Seven Species and are customarily eaten on the second night of Rosh HaShana, when one partakes of a new fruit.

Also on display are orange mangoes, green guavas, yellow star fruit, red pitayas, and purple kobus. There are beets, pumpkins, okra, fresh spinach leaves, and peppers in half a dozen colours. Fresh mint, parsley and sage are sold in bundles, their fragrance piercing the air.

Of course, food is not the only thing that heralds in the Holidays. Starting a month before Rosh HaShana, the sound of the Shofar (a ram’s horn) can be heard very early in the morning from various neighboring synagogues (not to be mistaken for rocket sirens – also heard very early in the morning). The blast of the Shofar is a reminder to Jews to repent of their sins. According to Leo Rosten, "The bend in the Shofar is supposed to represent how a human heart, in true repentance, bends before the Lord."

The best part of the approaching holidays is the great Israeli saying "Acherei HaChagim" – "After the holidays". Everything, but everything is postponed until ‘after the holidays’. For two weeks before Rosh HaShana, one doesn’t have to do anything. You just tell your boss that you’ll get that work done ‘after the holidays’. You can only go visit your mother-in-law ‘after the holidays’. That closet will get cleaned out the minute those pesky holidays are over. Of course this isn’t so good if you are on the receiving end of the phrase. The technician can only come fix your air conditioner "after the holiday." There won’t be a sign of the report you’re waiting for until ‘after the holidays." And forget that new fridge you thought you were buying at that Back to Shul Sale. New stock only comes in – you know the rest.

For at least two weeks prior to Rosh HaShana, it is customary for Israelis to wish one another a "Shana Tovah U'metuka" – a good and sweet new year. Israelis seem to overdo everything. Why do we wish both a good AND sweet year? Isn't it enough to wish just a good year?

The reason is that everything G-d does is for the good—even when we can't see the good, when we can't fathom that this too is for the good. Because we aren't G-d. We can't see the intricate mosaic of the world, and of history, and we can't understand that sometimes bad things turn out to be good. And sometimes no is the correct answer to our prayers. We have to remember that EVERYTHING G-d does is for the good. So we wish one another a sweet year, so that the things that happen to us are not only good but OBVIOUSLY and immediately good - that they feel sweet.

Shana Tovah U'Metuka 5773 to all of Am Yisrael.

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