Shana Tova, Happy New Year!

People who choose to move to the country-side aren’t necessarily anti-city. They are people looking to slow down their pace, possibly to exchange quantity for quality. I feel that way about my religion. It’s a way of living a life that is more thoughtful, rooted, in-tune emotionally. Life in the fast track is noisy and crowded. It’s so easy to fill every waking hour with stuff that other people have recorded, with food I didn’t cook, with thoughts that I watch, rather than think. Practising my religion forces me to disconnect from electronics, because there are other demands on my time. Cooking traditional food, is, as far as I’m concerned, a religious act. It connects me to an old tradition, to thoughts, tastes and smells that create the DNA of my soul.

Abu-Ahmed, a down-on-his-luck Palestinian who we have befriended years ago, and whom we try to help to the best of our ability, just called to wish us a Happy New Year. Some weeks ago, at the end of the Moslem month of Ramadan, I wished him Id Said, a Happy Holiday, on the occasion of Id El Fitr, the holiday that concludes the Moslems month of fasting. We live in the same duck-pond, and though we are very aware of our differences, we respect and reflect each others’ religion. Moslems are a minority in Israel, around 20% of the population, but it’s not strange practising Islam in Israel, the way it was, being a Jew in Sweden.

On Jewish holidays we do two things, we pray and we eat. Except on some holidays when we pray and fast. Prayer means praying together, usually in a synagogue or a designated place of worship. The Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) are also known as the High Holidays. These are the most significant holidays of the year. In the spring there is Passover, which traditionally is preceeded by a period of intensive spring-cleaning. The autumn holidays are the same, except time we give the soul a good shake to stir things up and get rid of some excess baggage and garbage of the heart. This is what you do when you pray, you go through many hours of texts, and try to think about where you are at the moment, what you have done in the past year, and where you really ought to be. Like in all programs designed to break bad habits, the first step is to acknowledge what is going on. Whoever wrote those prayers, over a thousand years ago, knew that, way before AA.

For some years, during my childhood and youth in Sweden, our designated place of prayer was located in a shopping mall. The small community I belonged to rented a space, which you could only get to by walking through the mall. At that time, I found it hard to handle the discrepancy between the bustling everyday in the mall, and the serene atmosphere in our little holiday bubble. Possibly, I’m a conformist and just dislike being different, but I don’t really believe that. It was never my ambition to just blend in, but I did hope not to go through life as a weirdo, permanently out of sync with the surroundings. Since I moved to Israel, more than 30 years ago, I no longer celebrate Jewish New Year. I just celebrate New Year, that is, the same New Year that the whole country celebrates. It’s quite a different feeling to wish the cashier in the supermarket a sweet new year, when the check-out line behind me is full of people, who are all doing the same.


The gastronomic symbol of the Jewish New Year is a slice of apple dipped in honey, signifying our wishes for a sweet and good year. The Jewish New Year is celebrated on the first of the month of Tishrei, which this year translates to tomorrow, Monday. What we celebrate, in fact, is the anniversary of the creation of the world. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a lot to celebrate. But, just like birthdays, we have good years and bad years, and always we hope that the next year will be better. In Jewish thought, god created the world and then he invited man to come help. Are we doing well? Am I doing well? Before me are two days of reflection, and if it turns out that things are not so great, there will at least be a lot of yummy traditional food to sweeten the day.

Shana Tova, Happy New Year!

Noomi Stahl