Fluff!

There’s too much to process from the news about Jerusalem and Israel, so please enjoy another fluff piece!

Solstice

I like marking solstices and equinoxes.  It reminds me that our little blue planet continues to revolve around the sun and the problems in our day to day lives are minuscule when seen through the lens of the galaxy or the universe.  I like the winter solstice because starting now, the days are getting longer.  We’ve passed the darkest day and it will only get better from here.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like … oh, wait, no it isn’t

I enjoy seeing the Christmas tree in front of the YMCA.  I’ve even seen a picture of Santa riding through the Old City on a camel.  But Israel doesn’t do the commercial version of Christmas.  Black Friday is just a shopping day that has no relation to Christmas.  In fact, December 25 and January 1 are regular workdays.

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Santa

Issa Kassissieh, wearing a Santa Claus costume, rides a camel during the annual Christmas tree distribution by the Jerusalem municipality in Jerusalem’s Old City December 21, 2017. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) SOURCE

Wishing you all a

Happy Holiday Season!!

Aharei ha’chagim / After the holidays

Parents all over Israel breathed a collective sigh of relief as they sent their kids to school on Thursday, September 1.

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Another phenomenon that began on approximately the same day was the throwing around of the phrase “aharei ha’chagim” (after the holidays).  The “holidays,” starting this year on October 2, are: Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; and Sukkot, an 8-day festival that includes building temporary shelters outside.  Jewish holidays are national holidays so in this 3-week period there are a lot of days off, children are home from school, and it’s hard to get anything done.

One of the rhythms of life in Israel is for people to put off new projects until after the holidays, but this national procrastination often starts about a month before the holidays actually begin.  This can sometimes delay projects for up to two months!  The holidays are usually in September, so after the slow-down of August, people are busy trying to catch up at work.  They don’t want to start anything new.  So it’s a pretty common conversation among workers to discuss some new project in September and the agreed-upon start date is “aharei ha’chagim.”

The only comparable scenario that I can think of in the US is if you have an idea for something new on December 20, it’s pretty easy to say that you’ll discuss it after the first of the year because you have to get through Christmas and New Year’s.  It’s a slight exaggeration, but imagine the slow-down if any project you pitched in November was delayed until after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Aharei ha’chagim can also be used sarcastically at other times of the year.  If someone is constantly delaying a project, it would be perfectly appropriate to ask, “Oh, and when will you be getting started on that? Aharei ha’chagim?” I imagine that it could be used by a parent to their teenager, “When did you plan to clean your room? Aharei ha’chagim?”

Aharei ha’chagim is most often used around the holidays in September, but it is also used before the Passover holiday in the spring. Passover is 8 days long and about 2 weeks before people might start delaying projects to aharei ha’chagim.

Stepping back to look at the big picture, I see aharei ha’chagim as part of the intensity of life in Israel, not a lazy delaying tactic.  In Israel, you work hard during the week and during the year and then rest completely and unplug from the world during Shabbat and holidays.  You finish everything you have on your list before the holidays, rest and rejuvenate during the holidays, and then give 100% effort to something new aharei ha’chagim.

Purim in Israel

Today and yesterday were Purim in Israel. The story of the holiday can be found in the Book of Esther.  A young Jewess wins a beauty contest to become queen and is uniquely poised to save the Jews of Persia from the very powerful Haman whose mission is to exterminate the Jews.

The story of Esther might not be your first thought if you are here in Israel on Purim.  Purim is celebrated as a cross between Halloween and April Fools’ Day.  Top items on the to-do list:  Drink A LOT and party like it’s 1999.  Give baskets of sweets to neighbors and friends (the opposite of trick-or-treat).  Pull pranks and laugh a lot.

You could liken this version of Purim with secular Easter celebrations.  Why does a bunny bring eggs in a basket?  Why does he hide them?  Why is the Easter Bunny a he?  What does a bunny have to do with Jesus rising from the dead?  Moreover, why is it that in France, Easter bells deliver eggs from Rome?  Well, I digress.

There are 4 things that you are actually supposed to do on Purim.

  1. Listen to the Book of Esther (in Hebrew, it’s Megillat Esther – you have to listen to the whole megillah)
  2. Have a festive meal where you drink a lot
    • This is where the sages suggested that you drink until you don’t know the difference between Mordechai and Haman
  3. Send gifts of food (in Hebrew, Mishloach Manot) to friends
  4. Give to the poor

You’ll note that dressing up is not mentioned and neither are pranks and jokes.

Purim is not one of those holidays where offices are closed, but workers are given the option of taking one of the two days off.  One of two days, you ask?  Purim in non-walled cities is on the 14th of Adar and Purim in walled cities is on the 15th of Adar (don’t ask, it’s complicated).  Jerusalem is considered a walled city, so we celebrate on the 15th, but since people have families outside of Jerusalem, some of them celebrate on the 14th.  Nowadays, the celebrating goes on for 2 days because it’s less confusing and a lot more fun.

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This guy’s video went viral in Israel for his awesome flight through Tel Aviv.

Back in the day, people used to dress up as characters from the Book of Esther.  No longer.  You’ll see superheroes; characters from literature, movies and TV; fantastical characters; clever visual puns; or at a minimum, people wearing funny hats or wigs.  If ever I dress up, I just plop on a tiara and call it done.  I read one article that traced the dressing up to Italian Jews following the traditions of Mardi Gras.  But the retroactively spiritual version, which I like, is that everything is hidden in the Book of Esther.  She wears the mask of a non-Jew to win the beauty contest.  God is not mentioned in the story, but the story is propelled forward by several coincidences that might be considered the invisible hand of God.

If you try to ask for hamantaschen in Israel, people will look at you funny.  The triangular, filled sugar cookie traditionally eaten for Purim is called oznei haman in Israel.  You might notice that Haman is mentioned in both cookie names, but strangely enough taschen and oznei are not the same.  Hamantaschen is the German for Haman’s pockets.  Oznei haman are Haman’s ears.  And then there is the common story that the cookie represents Haman’s hat.  But still, why are we eating anything related to Haman at all?  He’s a villain!  There’s no good answer for that, but the cookies are yummy nonetheless.

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There’s a joke about Jewish holidays that goes like this:  Jewish holidays can be summarized as “They tried to kill us.  They failed.  Let’s eat.”  Purim is a great example.  But it is also a reflection of day to day life in Israel and we don’t need any holidays to remember that.  So Happy Purim!  Let’s eat!