For millennia Jews have lived outside the land of Israel. Longing to return to “the land” has been both joyfully sung and woefully ululated in countless prayers, in poetry, and across continents. I believe that the most poignant expression of this sentiment is immortalized in the poem by the Medieval poet, Yehudah Halevi, in perhaps his most famous work: “Libi B’Mizrah, v’anochi b’sof maarav” “My Heart is in the East, and I am in the far reaches of the West.”
As an Israeli, I too long and yearn to be in the East, a.k.a. Israel, during the Jewish holidays. I want to celebrate the holidays in the same geographical space where innumerable historical events connected to these dates occurred. The experience is thrilling. The plethora of rituals, music, distinct foods, and traditions is a small sample of the richness brought by Jews who moved to Israel from the four corners of the earth. The variety of traditions combine to create a special festive atmosphere shared by all. Anticipation and the spirit of the holidays permeates most aspects of life in Israel and allows people to embrace the celebrations in their communities. To hear the greetings “Shanah Tovah,” “Shabbat Shalom,” or “Chag Sameach” in Hebrew uttered in the Israeli media, spoken by neighbors, and even by passers-by is unquestionably joyful. It is the feeling of belonging.
And yet, as more than half of the global Jewish population lives outside the land of Israel today, it takes extra effort to imbue the spirit of the Jewish holidays individually and collectively.
Teaching learners about the yom tov holiday traditions of Jews from different parts of the world is a step towards reliving the festive experience while elevating their understanding of the richness we carry by perpetuating tradition. School-home partnership in preparing and celebrating the Jewish holidays also has the potential to infuse joy and add depth to our shared heritage. And, of course, planning a trip to Israel coinciding with one of the holidays is the best way to ensure learners get a taste of the “East” in all its vibrancy.
Dr. Alicia Gejman