Exit Ramp: In Israel the focus shifts as the holidays approach

Exit Ramp: In Israel the focus shifts as the holidays approach

The Israeli summer is always hot. Not New Jersey hot, but Middle Eastern scorching and sizzling. It’s actually a good time to leave the country for cooler spots. And, in fact, many Israelis do just that.

It is commonly perceived that Israelis may not be the most traveled people in the world, but anyone visiting Ben-Gurion Airport in July or August, at any time of day or night, will witness the crowds making the exodus. Planes take off, heading toward myriad destinations. Technically flights don’t depart at 3 a.m. but those with a flight scheduled for 5 a.m. typically arrive at the airport two hours before takeoff. 

On a frenetic August day, my husband and I dashed to the airport not to escape the heat, but to pick up our son and daughter-in-law and their two little girls. As with many visiting Americans, school schedules take precedence over climate schedules, and knowing how hot it would be did not deter the family. 

And so they came and we schlepped all over the country, with its multitude of attractions, realizing once again that it’s really a pretty compact place. Just look at a map and see the tiny, almost impossible-to-locate dot among all those other countries in the Middle East. That’s Israel.

Our visitors have now left and Israel is back to a normal schedule. Did I say normal? Hardly ever the case. With summer vacation a mere memory and schools in session, the heat still prevails but the focus has shifted to, of course, the chagim! The holidays!

Before September even began, I had already witnessed the first hint of pre-holiday preparation. I saw two of our neighbors doing a massive job of what we Americans might call spring cleaning, but to my mind it was still so early that I asked each of them what they were doing. They both said, “Getting ready for the chagim.” So, suddenly the prevailing atmosphere has changed; the family trips to Romania and Holland (cool destinations) are over, and everywhere the focus is now on “the holidays.”

A couple of weeks ago everyone who wasn’t chutz la’aretz (out of the country) was in the malls buying school supplies. Now the stores are packed with the shoppers buying gifts (Israelis exchange presents at Rosh HaShanah, a practice no doubt conjured up by the merchants and religiously observed by the observant and nonobservant alike). And, of course, new clothing for the holidays is a must-have phenomenon. The grownups, who have to concentrate on shopping, are happy that the children are back in school where they belong.

So now the entire country turns to the really all-consuming pre-holiday routine, the inviting of guests and the planning of meals. Since air-conditioning has become so prevalent, meals can focus on traditional heavy fare. Every balabusta in the land will be submerging her chicken into the boiling water, adding her own special ingredients, and serving a delicious, rich chicken broth with heavy additions of kneidlach or kreplach. There will be — as no doubt commanded by the Almighty — too much to eat, but our people will consume the vast quantities valiantly. Some may eat so much that they will find it impossible to roll out of bed and head for the beit knesset, but most will commemorate the holy days with serious reflection and hopes for a good year.

And if it’s September and Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are fast approaching, we know that Simchat Torah cannot be far behind. That is the day we will begin our prayers for wind and rain and, at last, feel a chill in the air — something all of Israel welcomes.

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