Oct 19, 2009

After the Holidays

Author Anna Levine was kind enough to share some of her reflections on Israel and the Fall Holidays. Now that they're over and Hanukkah has not yet begun, we feel like new projects are sprouting up all over! Welcome to the blog, Anna! (Here's Anna in Modi'in, the setting for Jodie's Hanukkah Dig.)

Some time around the beginning of September we start using the Hebrew phrase achrai hachagim. Literally this translates to “after the holidays.” However, this quintessential Israeli expression really means, “there’s no point of even thinking of doing anything until after the holidays, so don’t even try.”

I am used to this by now, though many immigrants unfamiliar with this mind set have a hard time adjusting. The first night of Sukkot we had a young guest who is in Israel for the year. He is in the throes of finding an apartment and says that dealing with Israeli bureaucracy makes him feel more Israeli every time he comes face to face with a brick wall and manages to take one down. “But these last 2 weeks,” he says, “have been impossible. How can the country function when everything closes down for the holidays?”

We adapt. It rained last night and a bit today and for these few weeks of the year we get a taste of autumn and we are reminded that our Holy Days have an agricultural as well as spiritual tie. The fruits which decorate the sukkah are the ones that are also ripening naturally on the trees in our gardens. Driving from Jerusalem to my cousins in the north I notice the changes of season as they are defined by the changes in the agricultural landscape. If the fields are white, then the cotton is ready for picking. It must be Fall.

In a way, it is liberating to know that absolutely nothing will get done during the time it takes for the new moon of Rosh Hashana to round out into the full moon of Sukkot. I love how the Israeli year is divided according to the Jewish holidays. We welcome in 5770 by sitting back and allowing ourselves to adjust to the feel of the new year and the changes of weather, celebrating with family and friends—giving ourselves time to adapt, and to think about the future.

As for me, I won’t be looking too far into the future for the next while. I’ll be looking into the past. With my picture book, Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig, having received a Sydney Taylor Notable award, I’ve gotten the go ahead for another archaeological book. This one takes place in Hezekiah’s Tunnel. A miraculous feat of engineering, built long before surveyors could scout with sophisticated equipment, tractors could dig, or diggers could lead without even a flashlight, King Hezekiah (First Temple period) planned, executed and succeeded in building a water tunnel through which water is still flowing today, two thousand years later, under the City of Jerusalem.

I’ll start working seriously on the revisions for this book sometime after the holidays, achrai hachagim. For now I wonder, do you think when King Hezekiah gathered his workers together he said, “Okay guys, we need to get this project done quickly.” And they looked back at him, and with all the respect they could muster, said, “Sure your majesty, no problem. We’ll get right to it—achrai hachagim.”

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