My First Elul and Rosh Hashana experience In The Old City of Jerusalem
Seven weeks after making Aliyah, we were privileged to greet Rosh Hashanah, the holiday that marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, in the holiest place on earth—Jerusalem, the Holy City. Let’s just say, it was spiritually “Mind Blowing” because Jerusalem is the place where Heaven meets Earth. The Torah teaches us that it is from Jerusalem that G-d’s heavenly Blessings emanate to the rest of the universe. As such, I was personally tapping into the light and blessings from the moment my day began. Living in the old city of Jerusalem, I had only to look out my window to be reminded of the history of our people and our Holy Land. It affected me on a deep level, as it awakened my inner sensitivity to the Divine nature of our people, our land and our holy mission.
I was definitely not prepared for the soul excitement I would experience in our ancestral homeland in preparation for this auspicious holiday and the others that followed. How could I be? I had been living in a foreign land alien to my soul essence. Now I was in the” Land of the Living” as the Torah states. My feet had touched down on Holy Turf and my soul was mingling with the IN CROWD—those Jews who had lived throughout our history IN the Holy Land and those now living IN the Holy Land. Every aspect of my life was changing and I was caught up in the excitement of the transformation. It was wondrous and I was smiling from the inside out. Our new community was passionately, Jewishly alive and filled with the awe and wonder of living life in the Holy Land. They were infused with great spirit and it was contagious, especially during the month of Elul leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
With the entrance of the month of Elul, I could hear the shofar sounding throughout the Old City, breaking the silence with its primordial, soulful scream. The sound of the shofar serves as a wake-up call to arouse our souls…. calling us to return to our true essence through self exploration, refinement and making amends. The penetrating shofar sound seemed to echo through the recesses of my mind calling me to a new level of awakening. It was riveting in its power to hold me in its embrace. I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life. I believe the holiness of the location had everything to do with it, along with the newborn power and idealism that had become manifest in my new life. As the holidays approached, I eagerly awaited experiencing them as a Jew living in her ancestral homeland. I knew it would be vastly different than anything I had ever experienced before and it was.
In Israel, once Elul arrives, everyone moves and behaves in a different way in preparation for the upcoming holiday. Meaningful holiday greetings and Blessings roll off the tongues of everyone in order to assure good judgments for the nation. I could tangibly feel the connections of our beloved nation, as we were all part of the hustle and bustle of preparations; both physical and spiritual. I felt as if I was In Paradise. Everything was so different and it was all Jewish; all family. The grocery stores were offering great sales, especially for the delicious Israeli wines. Text messages and computer calls were generated by banks and credit card companies to wish their customers a Shana Tova…a good year. These simple gestures of goodwill for our precious holidays served to increase my excitement for this new life we had chosen.
Rosh Hashana in Israel is one of the most special and exciting times of the year as everyone is caught up in the preparations. The landscape abounds in lovely pomegranate trees adorned in bright orange flowers dripping with the most beautiful pomegranates that will grace our Rosh Hashanah tables. The markets are full of luscious apples grown in the Golan and succulent dates from the Jordan Valley region. These are just a few of the symbolic foods eaten at the holiday table on the first night of Rosh Hashana. The others are beets, gourds, dates, carrots, leeks, and fenugreek along with the head of a sheep or fish and of course homeland honey. First and foremost these symbolic foods are grown in the holy soil of Eretz HaKodesh (The Holy Land) and thus are full of holiness unlike foods that are not grown or produced in the land. Secondly, prior to eating these foods, we recite a powerful Blessing to G-d as an expression of our hopes for the coming year. Each food is then followed by a short but dynamic prayer to enhance the power of the deep symbolism.
I approached the final week of Elul leading us to Rosh Hashanah with an incredible sense of newfound pride and joy, in spite of the fact that I was heading to Judgment Day. I felt a sense of calmness I had never experienced before, because I knew I was tapping into the cumulative mitzvot and Teshuva that was going on all around me in our Jewish homeland. I was, metaphorically speaking, standing on the shoulders of giants and this was giving me renewed strength and commitment. This was enabling me to do Teshuva or RETURN to myself and to G-d in a new way. This lifted me up to a new level of faith in my personal ability to do teshuva on a deeper, more meaningful level. I began to understand that doing what I needed to do in my own realm of personal growth was adding to the good deeds and strength of all Jews; both dead and alive.
I entered the holiday services knowing that, for the first time in my life, from where I was living, that my prayers would ascend straight up to heaven with no intermediary. This gave me great cause for the deepest, heartfelt gratitude and carried me to a new level of Avoda—service to G-d. On Rosh Hashanah, the day we coronate G-d as King of our lives, I knew without question, that I would be able to coronate Him as My King in a much deeper fashion, because I was now truly one of His subjects. I was living in His Palace in The Holy Land that He gave to His beloved, Jewish people. I was surrounded by the holiness of the Land, the holiday and the nation and I felt the majestic stance of a Proud Jew and it took my breath away.
Friends, fellow Jews, if you are longing for the deepest, sweetest, richest holiday experience and the most meaningful Jewish life, COME HOME TO THE PALACE AND MEET THE KING IN PERSON! As the prelude to the Shema says as we cry out to G-d, ” Hurry and bring us blessing and peace, speedily from the four corners of the world; break the yoke of the nations from upon our necks and lead us speedily with upright pride to our land.” I believe that says it all.
La Shana Tova! May G-d Bless you with the deepest desire to return to full strength as a Jew! May He provide for all your needs with ease and give you great health and well being, loving relationships and shalom. May you be blessed to access your truest essence and bring blessings to yourself, your family and your nation. May you be written and sealed for a wonderful year with much happiness.
With Love, Ariella Bracha
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