It’s always around the holidays that I am reminded why I left America and moved to this little patch of Jewish land in the middle of the Middle East.
After all, what was so bad in America? I lived in a thriving Jewish community in New York, where there were kosher take-out places, synagogues, and large congregations of religious Jews. I didn’t suffer any overt sense of anti-Semitism. I was free to practice my religion, my customs.
Yes, all true. But I never walked down the street and found chicken feathers from someone who had just done kapparot. I never saw a large, roped-off square with hundreds of Chassidim who were choosing their lulav and etrog. I never saw street corners all over the city taken over by young men selling pre-fab sukkah booths. And I never saw crowds of children choosing their sukkah decorations and their Torah flags for Simchat Torah.
I never heard the silence of a whole city, whose cars had ceased to run, whose stores were shuttered, on Yom Kippur. I never felt that it was my place, a Jewish city, a Jewish country, that was totally involved in preparing for a Jewish holiday. A city that belonged to me by rights of ancestry and thousands of years of uninterrupted tradition.
I never felt the rush in the supermarkets as people stocked up for a three-day holiday. And I certainly never bought kosher challah that was still warm from coming out of the oven in a supermarket. And waiting on check-out lines, I never felt connected to the people behind me and in front of me as I checked out their carts to see how they, too, were preparing their festive meals for many guests, getting ideas from them and hopefully giving them a few.
And standing outside my front door, I never heard the sound of the shofar fill the air from packed synagogues all over the neighborhood, branding the very airwaves with a special meaning, filling the crisp Jerusalem air with the music of my people.
And I never had the experience of knowing that every, single person around me, every neighbor, every resident of the entire city and country was aware that it was a holiday, and in some way participated in it.
Despite all the difficulties, the worries, the fears, and hardships which are sometimes the lot of the Jews of Israel, each time the holidays roll around, I get reminded once again all the blessings that became mine because I took the path less traveled by and joined my brothers and sisters in the land of the Jews, leaving my birthplace behind me.