Shana Tova Umetuka – 5781

Shana Tova Umetuka

Shana Tova Umetuka
שנה טובה ומתוקה

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins tonight (Friday night), and lasts for 2 days, until sundown on Sunday night. The Jewish year follows the lunar calendar, and the number counts the number of years since Creation. This year we will mark the beginning of 5781.

This year is going to be completely different from any Rosh Hashana that anyone living can remember. It is not like during wartime when we took shelter, although the principle of isolation is somewhat similar. All over the world, shuls, synagogues, minyanim (prayer quorums) held in car parks, parks, back gardens and assorted public spaces, are going to be divided and subdivided into “capsules” as the Israeli government likes to call them. Plastic or plexiglass sheets have been put up to divide prayer spaces into groupings which will attempt to limit exposure to the coronavirus. In Israel, despite the very intense heatwave we’ve been suffering (G-d must really have it in for us this year!), we will have to leave the windows open in shul despite the air-conditioning trying to operate, in order to “dilute” the virus.

Tens of thousands of Israelis are in “bidud” – quarantine – after having been exposed to the virus and cannot take part properly in the Rosh Hashana prayers, so Shofar-blowers will be walking through the various neighborhoods to blow the Shofar for anyone who needs to hear it.

I myself will be attending the services in my brother’s car-park, where I have been going since the last lockdown was lifted straight after Pesach. It’s actually a very nice minyan, and the organizers have now figured out where to hang shading, and where to place chairs in maximum shade. Electric extension cables have been bought for a few fans to help cool us during the heat of the day, but in any event, on the instructions of the Chief Rabbinate, the prayers are going to be cut short. We are going to be starting very early, much of the beautiful poetic passages will be cut out altogether, and singing will be cut to the absolute minimum, again to prevent the spread of the virus.

I know that in years to come we will look back and laugh at what we had to go through, but at the moment it is very hard to see the funny side, especially with the enormously surging numbers of infected people in Israel, and a new lockdown beginning tomorrow afternoon.

I hope and pray that the Almighty gives our leaders the common sense, the logic and the wisdom to make the right decisions for us for a change, because up to now all of those characteristics have been exceedingly lacking.

To give us a bit of an optimistic view of what we hope and pray for next year, here are the Maccabeats with the Israeli classic “Bashana Haba’ah” (Next year), written by the “poet laureate” of Israel, Naomi Shemer. The lyrics were changed slightly to be more relevant to our current situation.. An English translation of the lyrics can be seen under the video (via Suzanne).

In the coming year we’ll sit on our porch
And we’ll count migrating birds
Children on holiday will play tag
Between the house and the fields

Soon you’ll see, soon you’ll see
How good it will be
In the coming year

Soon the day will arrive when we will sing together,
And the distance will just disappear
And the children will smile,
In a world that’s gotten better,
So let’s bring in a healthy new year

Wait and see, wait and see,
what a world there can be
And we know that there’s always tomorrow

In the coming year we’ll spread our palms
Against the white flowing light
A white heron will spread its wings in the light
And the sun will shine in them

Soon you’ll see, soon you’ll see
How good it will be In the coming year

To quote from previous Rosh Hashana posts, Rosh Hashana is not marked by great parties and merry-making for the Jewish New Year is also known as the Day of Judgement, the day when all humans are held accountable before Heaven for their good deeds and bad, and their fate for the coming year is decided. A good part of the two days of the festival is spent in emotional and uplifting prayers in the synagogue where we acclaim G-d as the King of Israel and as King of the whole universe, and where we ask Him to write us in the Book of Life, which remains open until Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in 10 days time, giving us time to repent and atone for our sins.

The holiday is marked with the blowing of the Shofar (the ram’s horn), which is meant to literally sound an alarm to wake us up from our bad ways and return us to the righteous path.

Here’s a short clip to give you an idea of what the Shofar sounds like. In the synagogue it will be sounded altogether 100 times in two sets of 30 and 4 sets of 10.

We also eat sweet foods to symbolise our wish for a sweet New Year. A classic staple at the Rosh Hashana table is the apple, which is round, symbolising the cycle of the year, dipped in honey for a sweet new year.

Even our Challahs are baked in a round shape to symbolise the circle of life and the circle of the year. They are often extra-sweet and have raisins inside for added sweetness.On the second night of Rosh Hashana it is traditional to eat a fruit from the new season. The most popular fruit is the pomegranate, because of the beauty of its shape, because it is one of the 7 species of produce native to the Land of Israel, and because it is traditionally believed that it has 613 seeds, the same as the number of mitzvot (commandments) that a Jew is commanded to keep.

In normal times I usually quote the Israeli bureau of statistics with their morale-boosting numbers of olim and new births. This year however the only statistics that are dominating the news media are corona statistics and they are just too depressing to share on a festive post.

Instead I shall concentrate on the amazing good news – which I admit I was very ambivalent about – of the newly signed peace accord, the Abraham Accords, between Israel and the UAE, brokered by US President Donald Trump:

Like it or not, Israel, the Jewish state, is finally integrated into the positive narrative of the region. With actual smiles and handshakes, it has become a recognized Middle Eastern state – part of the landscape of its deserts, mountains, cities and Mediterranean coasts.

Airplanes will be able to fly freely between Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi and Manama. Citizens of these countries will travel back and forth. Water will flow. Innovation in medicine, high-tech and agriculture will be shared. It’s a Rosh Hashanah miracle. The Messiah seems to be coming, after all.

“Hope and change” – the empty campaign slogan used by former US President Barack Obama – doesn’t do justice to what is happening before our very eyes. That Saudi Arabia is allowing its airspace to be used for flights between Israel and the Arab world is but one example.

Oman, too, has welcomed the normalization of ties between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, as has Egypt. Kuwait is looking on with caution. Even Qatar, a friend and ally of Iran and Hamas, is trying to hedge its bets – as the current agreements have shuffled all the cards.

Other Arab countries expected to normalize relations with Israel in the near future include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, as well as Sudan, Chad and even Kosovo, a Muslim country, which wants to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

(L-R)Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington (Photo: AFP)

Maybe we really are living in Mashiachzeit (the Messianic Age)? With so much hardship caused by the coronavirus on the one hand, and the breaking out of peace on the other – how can we fathom G-d’s plan?

All we can do is follow the instructions of the health authorities regarding the virus – wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance – and at the same time pray to Hashem for salvation from this plague, and for the continuation and widening of the peace circle in the Middle East.

May Hashem hear our prayers wherever they are held. And this year, as I said above, they are not being recited in grandiose synagogues and formal prayer halls. This year we will be gathering (if we are allowed to gather at all) in the most lowly and prosaic places: car parks, playgrounds, public parks and even street corners. And yet our prayers this year will be more fervent than ever.

If I have offended anyone during this past year I ask forgiveness of them and sincerely apologize.

May Hashem grant us good health, peace, joy and prosperity, and may He inscribe us all in the Book of Life.

תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה

Let the current year and its curses be over, let the new year and its blessings begin.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy new year.

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11 Responses to Shana Tova Umetuka – 5781

  1. Pingback: Shana Tova Umetuka – 5781 – 24/6 Magazine

  2. Pingback: Shana Tova Umetuka (" a good and sweet year"!) – 5781

  3. Reality says:

    Amem! What a strange year its been, and we are starting off in a strange way too,as you said.But Hashem always listens to prayers, and like in those desperate times when the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed,Hashem listened to the poorest of the poor,saw their tears and answered their prayers. Hashem doesn’t need us to pray in grandiose places. So this year when all Jews are praying on their own if they are in quarantine or in small groups our prayers will be extra fervent, especially when we recite Avinu Malkenu. Our Father,Our King remove the plague from your people. Each year we recite it but have never understood it, till now…
    My hubby has been asked to be the chazan (cantor) and shofar blower at a small family minyan (quorum) as the elderly parents of this family cannot get to any other place to daven. This is the beauty of the Jewish people.Despite our confusing instructions, everyone is helping out so that people can pray anywhere.
    May Hashem listen and answer our prayers,may rhis plague be removed from the world,May the peace accords really bring peace and stop the constant terrorism Israel and other countries face,May the Mashiach come.
    I wish everyone a healthy ,happy sweet new year,a year filled with socialising ,a year where we are not afraid to hug our families and friends,a year where people’s jobs will be safe,a year where we can really appreciate our good life.A year where our leaders will lead with responsibility and good sense.
    May we all be inscribed in the book of Life and I ask forgiveness if I offended anyybody.
    כתיבה וחתימה טובה
    ,and hopefully better times are ahead

  4. David in PT says:

    As Anne’s brother and Gabbai of our Car Park Minyan I just wanted to add what a difficult task it has been to get organised for Rosh Hashana. Apart from the routine job of booking Baalei Tefilla (Cantors) Baal Tekiah (Shofar Blower) and Baal Koreh (Torah Reader) we have had to become sun watchers to estimate where the sun will be at the hours we shall be davening (praying) so we can provide shade. Sunshade netting was provided (late last night!) by the City and as I write we are tying it into place. Plastic chairs had to be collected and stored. Sifrei Torah (Torah Scrolls) had to be collected, rolled into place and stored. Floodlights had to be rigged up and connected to time switches to improve the lighting for evening davening especially with Yom Kippur approaching and Kol Nidrei and Ne’ila prayers taking place during darkness. Industrial fans were borrowed and/or donated by the city but these had to be connected to 10 metre extension cables which in turn were connected to a power source and time switch. Then we had to build a mechitza (partition) between the men’s and ladies’ areas. Finally the sitting areas had to be roped off into “capsules” so that each one was limited to 20 people to comply with the regulations. Having done all this it just remains to have meaningful prayers and uplifting services in the outdoors. And then at the end of the chagim (festivals) on Simchat Torah, we will pray for rain to destroy all this!

  5. Earl says:

    L’Shana Tova to anne and her family- I hope this New Year is safe, happy and… “less challenging”!

  6. Brian Goldfarb says:

    “(G-d must really have it in for us this year!)”.

    No, I think that The Almighty is telling us that He can’t do it all: we have to take some responsibility for ourselves and our world as well: that’s why He gave us free will and scientists!

    Perhaps poorly put: He could do it all, but as He gave us free will, we must take some responsibility ourselves, otherwise we become as babies, reliant only on Him.

    Or, in a more secular manner, as Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have said “Praise The Lord and keep your powder dry!”, and as a Second world War American Chaplain (Christian) is also reputed to have said “Praise G-d and pass the ammunition!r.s.”.

    Excuse the military analogies, but this also applies to helping our physical world heal itself.

    On that note, we can see the Abraham Accords as a secular blessing for a fresh start in a particularly dangerous part of an anyway dangerous world.

    Shana Tovah & well over the Fast to all Anne’s readers as well as to Anne and her family.

  7. Brian Goldfarb says:

    I have to add an advertisement for a fabulous Arab (and presumably Moslem) journalist based in Jerusalem, who writes regularly for Gatestone Institute: this is a relatively right-wing organisation (Alan Dershowitz often posts articles there: he now defends Trump against all-comers, and he used to be a liberal!). The journalist is Khaled Abu Toameh, and I suspect that if he didn’t live in Jerusalem (& possibly West Jerusalem at that), he’d be dead by now.

    Anyway, please take a look at his latest offering on Gatestone Institute: You will find a fascinating Arab/Palestinian taken on Abba Eban’s famous aphorism that “The [Palestinians] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. It’s in about the third paragraph.

    It might quite make your day! Or even week!

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