Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5764 - November 26, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Rosh Hashana Revisited
by Chava Dumas

The awe of the Yomim Noraim usually doesn't wear off right away. The awareness of Hashem's Presence in which we were immersed for the months of Elul and Tishrei doesn't just evaporate by Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan or Kislev.

Sources in Chazal discuss what to do if one has missed the opportunity to do tshuva during the Ten Days of Repentance. Some say we have until Hoshana Rabba to repent properly, or even until Chanuka! In short, we can always turn to the Ribbono Shel Olam with a heartfelt prayer.

The memory of a sweet tefila can inspire us whenever we choose to recall it. As we stand alone, reciting Shemone Esrei in the privacy of our home, or reciting the awesome words of Oleinu Leshabeiach, we can easily reconstruct in our mind the chazzan's voice on Rosh Hashana, as he cries out with deep emotion, "Somech noflim verofei cholim..." and "Va'anachu korim... lefnei Melech Malchei Hamelochim..."

An experience can be so powerful in its impact that its recollection can last a lifetime and serve as an inspiration any time of the year. For instance, the first Rosh Hashana of my life as a married Observant Jewish woman is etched deeply in my memory. Though it's been nearly two decades since, I've never forgotten.


We were young newlyweds, recently arrived in Jerusalem, searching for a centrally located apartment in walking distance to the Kosel and my husband's kollel.

Nachlaot, a very old neighborhood tucked away behind the Machane Yehuda shuk, seemed ideal for us. So we spent hours investigating each possibility and every lead. We were house- sitting for friends in the Old City for three weeks, and we really hoped to find a home before our friends returned from America.

Two weeks went by before we found the perfect place: a small, two-room, second floor apartment not far from Machane Yehuda. The only drawback was the price: fifty dollars more per month than we'd anticipated paying during our first year of marriage. We told the owner we needed a little time to think about it. We went for a walk around the neighborhood and returned an hour later to say, "Yes!"

But the landlady said, "Sorry, it's already been rented out."

Dismayed that we'd let our chance slip through our fingers, we returned to the Old City feeling discouraged. We so much wanted to be settled in before the Elul semester began. Fortunately, a neighbor called that evening to check up on us and I poured out my disappointment.

"It was perfect!" I proclaimed and launched into a detailed description of all the advantages of the location, how many hours we'd spent looking, how soon our friends would be returning from America, and generally continued to kvetch into Henny's sympathetic ear.

"What did you say the address was?" she asked.

I told her and she responded, "I am almost certain that a couple we know just moved out of a flat in that building. Let me look into it."

"Really? You're kidding!"

"Let me get back to you."

Fifteen minutes later, I was talking to Karen, the previous tenant of an almost identical apartment one floor above our `dream home' that was still available for rent and even had a Succa porch. She happily gave me the phone number of her former landlord. What Hashgacha!

Throughout the week, as we began unpacking the few belongings we'd brought with us, I found myself calling Karen very frequently. She was so nice and helpful, kindly answering all my questions, like where was the closest corner store, where we could toivel our new dishes, where to pay bills, from whom to order gas tanks [there is no central gas in ancient Nachlaot] and most important, where we should daven.

Nachalaot, for your general information, is a remarkable neighborhood with a shteibel on nearly every block. Choosing which one would be most suitable for newlywed, newly religious American olim was no simple matter. Each shteibel had its own individual nuance and flavor. Karen, my new phone friend, suggested that we try the place where her husband had davened, and she gave me the directions.

That is how we ended up in a quaint, humble Yerushalmi shul for the Yomim Noraim. To say that I wasn't quite in my element was putting it mildly. But what exactly was my element? We were too new to Yiddishkeit to really know. That was why Nachalaot was perfect for us. We were able to remain `unidentified' as we adapted to our lives as Torah-observant Jews. We didn't need to decide if we were `modern,' `Litvish- yeshivish' or Chassidish. It was more than enough to just be `Jewish' and determined to learn and grow in the atmosphere of holiness that Jerusalem offered us.

Rosh Hashona was approaching. I'd known all my life that shofar blowing was an integral part of the way Jews greeted the New Year, but somehow, I'd missed out on the experience while growing up.

There was always an enormous turnout of congregants in the usually minimally attended Conservative synagogue of my youth. Eight hundred people would sit on cushioned chairs of burgundy velvet with flecks of gold interwined in the fabric. Chandeliers of sparkling crystal hanging overhead, solemn singing, responsive readings, so many faces looking confused or bored.

After twenty minutes, I made my escape to a large, luxurious ladies room, where the other girls congregated undisturbed, talking incesantly in the lounge chairs in front of the ridiculously showy floor-to-ceiling mirrors. There we would stay for hours and that is how I must have managed every year to miss the actual moment of shofar blowing. The whole experience was sad, completely devoid of any meaning for me. As soon as I reached adolescence, I was able to avoid "the synagogue" entirely.

Now, by stark contrast, I was sitting in a small shul in Nachlaot, on a hard, wooden bench that leaned precariously to one side. One false move and it would break! The barren room consisted only of a few narrow rickety tables, decorated unceremoniously with modest white cloths. The walls were thick, solid stone with chipped plaster coating, like fortress barricades, decorated with the familiar Yerushalmi painted stencils of beige paisley flowers on faded pink. There were barely any women, only a handful, and they were all much older than me, not just physically in years, but I sensed clearly that they were of ancient stock, spiritually rooted in a loftier locale.

We were in our own tiny space, separated from the men by a closed door and two small windows with bars and frayed curtains that no one, for reasons of modesty, would move aside in order to peek into the men's section to see what was going on. I wouldn't dare.

My skinny little self was wedged between two large, tall women, dressed in simple, no-frill frocks. The proximity of their bodies was so close that I could FEEL these two great, G-d-fearing women trembling in their awe of Heaven. I could FEEL the shaking sobs that poured forth from the depths of their hearts and shook me to my core.

I spent half the time as an active participant, and the other half as a self-conscious outsider furtively watching the women around me, as though from a bird's eye view looking down from the upper left corner of the room. How had I arrived at this place? My inner eye kept comparing the Rosh Hashanas of my past with the one I was presently in the midst of. The contrast was unreal!

Back and forth, my awed spirit wandered, feeling the trepidation of my surroundings, moved by the intensity of the tefillos.

The heart-wrenching sobs of the women around me caused my own tears to pour forth freely. Their pleading cries offered me insight into the meaning of Rosh Hashana that I'd never contemplated before. I felt thoroughly cleansed. How had I merited to be here, I kept asking Hashem, to witness this greatness of Jewish soul and survival, this essence of who we, the Jewish people, really were? I never knew there was such powerful davenning in the world! I never knew!

I felt an incredibly overwhelming sense of gratitude to Hashem for leading me here, as I continued to try and peek inconspicuously at the faces of the women. They didn't need to "follow the services" on the other side of the mechitza. These women knew what Rosh Hashana was all about and they didn't need to watch the men in the adjacent room. They were their own service! They were completely involved in the intimate process of their own pesonal accounting with Hashem, totally aware of the presence of Hashem as Creator and King. And they were shaking up the Heavens with their pleas for a good, sweet New Year for Am Yisroel.

Finally, after hours of this soul-stirring experience, when the shofar was blown, the blasts were so loud, the sound penetrated the cells of my body, making them vibrate. My blood was being shaken! How could my soul sleep through blasts such as these? Hashem, thank You for waking me up!

As we wound through the stone-studded paths and arches on the second day of Yom Tov, it was clear that here in Yerusholayim, we were on a new way, to a noble destination, on the well-trodden path that was familiar even within the strangeness of the culture shock.

Two more souls had come home.


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