10 Ways You Know Rosh Hashana is Approaching in Israel
by Judy Lash Balint
1. Swarms of secular and curious Israelis, who throughout the year spend as little time as possible in any synagogue, suddenly get nostalgic and take tours in the wee hours of the morning to take in the sight and sounds of the faithful who crowd into the quaint synagogues of the old Jerusalem neighborhoods to butter up God before the High Holydays with selichot (penitential) prayers.
2. Shofar blasts are heard all over town at all hours of the day and night. Kids trying out their fathers’ ram’s horn; tourists intrigued by the huge curly shofars on sale in the Old City shuk, and synagogue officiants practicing for the big days to come.
3. Pomegranates are everywhere—real ones weighing down branches on trees all over town and on sale in the Machane Yehuda shuk; symbolic ones for sale as honey dishes or embossed on cards and featured in ads.
5. Turn on the radio any time in the weeks between the date school starts and Yom Kippur, and it’s a sure bet that on any station you’ll hear a version of Adon Haselichot (Master of forgiveness), a traditional prayer of repentance with a particularly catchy Sephardi melody. You can even download it as a ringtone…
6. Tel Aviv parking authorities traditionally have a special category of erev Rosh Hashanah parking tickets called“Dochot Shana Tova“- Happy New Year tickets. Anyone who parks without putting money into the meter or hanging up a parking slip in Tel Aviv on erev Rosh Hashanah will be ticketed, but the ticket will only describe the infraction and then explain that in honor of Rosh Hashanah the fine has been waived.
7. Quarter-page ads placed in every Israeli newspaper by the Israel Airport Authority are directed at the tens of thousands of Israelis who will pass through Ben Gurion Airport on their way to the grave of Rebbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine for the traditional Rosh Hashana supplications that overwhelm the little town. The ads include the following important info: (a) There are two synagogues in the Terminal. (b) If you’re part of a large group that needs more space to daven, please turn to the airport stewards who will arrange additional prayer space.
8. Shoppers laden with huge nylon bags bulging with every kind of produce, fish, meat and bread may be seen staggering under the weight of their purchases, secure in the knowledge that they have sufficient provisions for the two days when stores are closed for the holiday.
9. A uniquely Israeli tradition is the “haramat cosi,” literally “lifting of the glass” in honor of the New Year. Government ministries, corporations and municipal offices all host pre-holiday toasts where wine and good wishes for the New Year flow. The fleet of diplomatic vehicles double-parked outside the official presidential residence in Jerusalem is an indication that President Reuven Rivlin is hosting the diplomatic corps for the traditional New Year liquid bash.
Newspaper polls report that only 47 percent of Israelis plan on attending synagogue services to pray during Rosh Hashanah, but around 99percent share festive meals with family. The traffic jams generated by all that coming and going are truly monumental. In the hours leading up to the erev Rosh Hashanah family dinner, it seems as if the entire country is on the road.
10. Forget about trying to get any workers to come to fix or deliver anything. “Acharei HaChagim“—after the holidays, is the standard refrain that means that you won’t be seeing anything done until the day after Simchat Torah, almost a month after Rosh Hashanah.
Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem-based freelance writer. She is author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times and Jerusalem Diaries: What's Really Happening in Israel. Judy hosted the Jerusalem Diaries Show on VoiceofIsrael.com and is currently a staff member at a leading Jerusalem think tank. Her articles have appeared in publications worldwide.