Anyone venturing into the shuk or even a local supermarket in Israel this week could be forgiven for thinking that the country was about to run out of food. Shoppers laden with huge nylon bags of 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 close for the holiday.

In contrast, many Israelis living below the poverty line will be relying on the abundance of organizations serving those in need for their basic holiday supplies.

Certain foods are traditional to eat on Rosh Hashanah and the markets are full of the most beautiful pomegranates, succulent dates and crisp apples. Almost all the produce is local—pomegranate trees grow everywhere, even in private gardens; dates are from the Jordan Valley and apples from the Golan.

For some, the two-day Jerusalem shutdown of entertainment and shopping is a little much. One of my more secular neighbors informed me she’s running off to a hotel in Tel Aviv for the duration. Tel Aviv’s beaches are generally packed on every holy day.

Other secular Israelis, however, are intrigued by the pre-Rosh Hashanah traditions. Nightly selichot tours take place in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Bukharan Quarter, Nachlat Shiva and Nachlaot neighborhoods. Swarms of Israelis who generally spend as little time as possible in any synagogue suddenly get nostalgic about the sights and sounds of other faithful Jews who crowd into the quaint synagogues of these old Jerusalem neighborhoods to butter up God before the High Holidays with late-night prayers. It’s the Sephardic congregations that host the most melodic recitations of penitential prayers and poetry in the month before Yom Kippur.

Over the past decade or so, concerts of the penitential poetry have soared in popularity. On any given night between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many of Israel’s most popular singers may be found in sold-out venues all over the country, reviving the ancient melodies from all corners of the Jewish world.

Turn on any radio station any time in the weeks between the day the school year starts and Yom Kippur, and it’s a sure bet that 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.

Newspaper polls report that only 47 percent of Israelis plan on attending synagogue services to pray during Rosh Hashanah, but hotels all over the country are reporting high occupancy rates. The traffic jams generated by all that coming and going are truly monumental. In the hours leading up to the leyl Rosh Hashanah family dinners, it seems as if the entire country is on the roads.

Roads anywhere near shopping centers have been packed for days now, so we should be used to it.

A uniquely Israeli tradition is the “haramat cosit,” literally, “lifting of the glass,” in honor of the New Year. Government ministries, corporations and municipal offices all host New Year toasts where wine and good cheer flow.

The fleet of diplomatic vehicles double-parked outside the official presidential residence is an indication that President Isaac Herzog is hosting the diplomatic corps for the traditional New Year bash. No doubt the foreign emissaries were discussing the tensions of the day, which this year, once again, include Iran’s nuclear development, instability in the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas and Hezbollah threatening our borders.

Forget about trying to get any workers to come to fix or deliver anything. “Acharei HaChagim”—after the holidays—is the standard refrain, which means that you won’t be seeing anything done until the day after Simchat Torah, the final day of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles.

So, as we prepare for a few days of introspection and stocktaking, we take this opportunity to wish readers and their families a Shanah Tovah, a year of peace, health, fulfillment and success.


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