November’s Embrace

Despite what that page between August and October indicates, the month of September doesn’t exist in Israel, at least not in the traditional way. 
    Days are spent in a near frenzy as people clean, shop, cook, cater, nap and start again. Children are barely in school and the term “acharei hachagim”—or “after the holidays”—is a national mantra, uttered by Jew and Arab alike. 
    No one is impervious or unaffected.
    I’d agonized over prayers, meal plans, pre-and-post fast sustenance, sukkah building, food schlepping, budgeting, energy depletion, staying in touch, losing touch, sukkah de-construction and–the elephant in the room–COVID.
    Preparing for chag almost made life feel normal until the requisite synagogue rules appeared on Whatsapp and Facebook groups with warnings about masks, green-passes, serological testing, social distancing and quotas at recreational activities. It all felt so wearying, familiar and bleak.
    Who wants to enter the year 5782 with anything less than gratitude and the expectation of miracles? Not me.
    This is why, when I was supposed to be writing an article, folding laundry or checking my credit card statement, I instead Googled information about post-holiday blues and whether or not it was a real phenomenon or another made-up ailment to add to my list of reasons why I should apply for disability payments from the dwindling government coffers. Ergo, I made two alarming discoveries: 1) The government would give me bubkis; and b) the after-holiday funk is a real thing. It is NOT all in my head!
    The good (great?) news is that the aforementioned doldrums were easy to identify, recover from and toss in the trash heap along with undercooked matzo balls and tacky sukkah decorations. The morning after that holiday week, I crawled to the gym with my trusty earphones and a menu of new murder-mystery podcasts that cropped up during my month of prayer. I slogged atop the treadmill, barely broke a sweat and envisioned a diet of clean eating and recommitment to healthy living.
    As winter descends on Israel, it is hard to ignore the sharp change in weather. OK,  we rarely need parkas and snowshoes but until November, there is little to no rain. We endure eight months of blazing desert sun that bakes the land and covers all surfaces with thick dirt and dust. 
     Still, emerging from a period of malaise and into a season of cleansing that falls from the sky allows us to recognize that prayers also change from entreaties borne of personal want to the more meditative intonations that coincide with the rhythm of the season.
    One recent morning, aware that I’d emerged unscathed from the aforementioned post-holiday funk, I walked the dog as the first winter rain fell. It evoked feelings of humility and gratitude. In the 5:30 am darkness, a woman’s voice, cracked with age, called out from the adjacent bus stop. I’d noticed her before.
   “Why are you always up so early?” she asked.
    “I write in the morning but walk the dog first so that she won’t bother me for a few hours,’” came my jovial reply.  “Why are you up so early?”
    “I go to the shuk when they unload the trucks. The vendors give me unsold bread and produce from the day before.”
    Our lives are defined by the choices that we make, including reveling in the changes of seasons, engaging in sincere prayer and practicing physical wellness. Wisdom awaits, but only when we recognize majestic moments that await discovery in the shuk, a weathered sukkah, or a bus stop at dawn.

New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.


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