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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.