By Shmuel Katz
This is one of my favorite times of the year. The entire season, from the beginning of Elul through the final minute of Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, is a continuing celebration of the renewal of yet another year. Living in the land of Israel, the homeland of our people, the land promised to our forefathers, the land imbued with its own internal holiness and the only place in the world in which we can keep certain mitzvot (Shemittah, terumot and ma’asrot, etc.), it is simply impossible not to be caught up in the anticipation and actualization of the chagim.
From the digital signs on the buses offering a berachah to all for a shanah tovah or chatimah tovah to the large signs in every grocery store and mall proclaiming the same, our homeland is awash with the trappings of the Yomim Noraim and Sukkot for weeks. I feel a natural uplifting and inspiration, simply by being here.
This year’s Elul brought with it the opening of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Modiin and the arrival of our first twelve students. With six of them hailing from the Five Towns/Rockaways, and a couple of them YOSS alumni, I feel that our bond with the Five Towns continues to stay strong.
This year’s group of yeshiva/seminary students is also the same age as our Aliza, who has begun her year of Sherut Leumi/National Service at Nefesh B’Nefesh. This means that many of her old classmates and friends from the Five Towns are now here for the year and she never knows when she might bump into one.
The Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Chaya was running errands when she came upon a group of lost-looking sem girls. They hesitantly approached her, asking for directions to one of our immediate neighbors; she offered them a ride. In the car, she discovered that one of them, Avigayil Mezei, was a former classmate of Aliza’s in elementary school. (Note to the Mezeis: Chaya reported that she looked happy and said she was loving it here.)
The following week, Aliza was walking to work at NBN when a total stranger stopped her and said, “ALIZA?” Aliza had no clue who it was and the girl said, “You don’t remember me, but we went to school together!” Of course, this story might be more meaningful if Aliza actually remembered her name so that I could give a shout out to her parents, but alas, Aliza was so stunned by the meeting that it has totally escaped her mind.
It is a great time of year for the incoming kids. The entire land is fresh and open before them. They have now gotten to their first vacation of the year and can explore the land a little before returning to the comforts of the dorm/yeshiva. And yes, I did say comforts.
I know most yeshivot are tightly packed. Our apartments are not. With no more than two to a room and no more than four students in an apartment, our dorms are very comfortable. We also have a full-time cook who has been preparing some truly delicious meals for us.
We went on my favorite tiyul, Ir David, on the second day of yeshiva. Rabbi Ginsberg is our menahel at Migdal and his wife works for Ir David and was able to arrange special access to a newly uncovered cavern that is not yet available for public viewing. That was definitely cool.
For Rosh Hashanah, I was able to pick chavushim from a tree in our backyard and we used them for our Shehechiyanu on the second night. I am not sure how chavushim translates, but they are essentially a dry cross between an apple and a pear. We also enjoyed some delicious rimonim (pomegranates) given to us by a neighbor. One of the highlights of the entire process is the opportunity to separate terumot and ma’asrot together with my children and to do so with a berachah. Right before Rosh Hashanah. How cool is that?
I have stated, early and often, how much I enjoy celebrating the chagim in the way that we are supposed to (one day of yom tov instead of two) and this year is no different. Instead of two more formal chag meals, I took our sons on an archeological hike in the hills around Bet Shemesh on the second day of Sukkot; another chance to experience more of the history of our land than we ever dreamed would be open to us a decade ago.
We had some early rains here on Shabbat HaMoed/Motzaei Shabbat. Considering how early in the solar calendar we celebrated the chagim, this rain was very early. I understand that seudah shlishit was rained out in Yerushalayim and we ate melaveh malkah inside here in Bet Shemesh, as the rains passed through.
As chol ha’moed continued, we spent a day in Kfar Chabad. A honey production company there hosts a fascinating (Hebrew) tour about beehives and honey production. Although the older ones were a little bit bored by the end of the tour, we enjoyed the day and capped it off by touring Kfar Chabad for a few minutes and trying to explain to our kids why there is a replica of 770 in the center of town!
We also attended a chol ha’moed circus event in Modiin for the first time. The multi-day event has both paid and free shows (free shows in a large public park in the evenings only). We went for dinner at the Modiin mall food court, eating in the mall’s kosher sukkah, and then headed over to the park to wander around, mingle, and enjoy some of the shows.
With my siblings all here, we had our annual family BBQ in our sukkah (with Bubbee and Zaidy of course) and the simple fact that we were all together, celebrating a chag in Eretz Yisrael, experiencing the kedushah of not only the chag but also the place, is simply tremendous. I hope you can join us in the future. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.