September is a time of new beginnings. Children return to school. Parents and families slowly move back into the pattern of every-day life. Here in Israel things are a little different. Even as school is starting up again, the Hebrew month of Tishrei suddenly arrives and with it a handful of biblical holidays (which are also vacation days!): the Feast of Trumpets (Yom T’ruah/Rosh HaShanah), Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), the Torah yearly reading cycle celebration (Simchat Torah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Most span a 24-hour period, whereas another (Sukkot) last a whole week.
This holiday season, has been full of many wonderful opportunities to reach out to our community and celebrate with them. In addition to the food baskets we handed out, a number of dinners and events were held at the Return to Zion facility in Haifa. One of our main emphases is reaching out to new immigrants. Their response and interest almost overwhelms us. So in addition to the food baskets, we held a celebratory dinner during Rosh Hashanah – a wonderful, intimate time of fellowship, food and music, in which we learned more about the holiday.
Out of the desire to teach, learn and discuss more, we have started a program called the Aleph Club. During these weekly club meetings, new immigrants have open conversations, light meals, music, and discussions about biblical truths which apply to our day-to-day life. The Aleph Club meeting during the holiday gave them a chance to go deeper into the biblical meaning of the holiday and its place in their lives.
An event, whose whole purpose was blessing Holocaust survivors was held on the final day of Sukkot, with the help of Beit Sar Shalom (Jerusalem), Shavei Tzion (Haifa) and volunteers from Malaysia. More than 60 survivors were invited. The volunteers prepared the meal, sang and played Jewish music to which they danced. Their presence there was such a blessing and even more meaningful considering the bureaucratic “hoops” our Malaysian guests had to jump through to enter Israel. Since Malaysia is a Muslim country, they had to apply for special visas. It is amazing how much love they have for Israel to be willing to go through all that.
Holidays are meant to be spent with friends and families. Many immigrants leave those behind when they move to Israel. It is truly a blessing to be able to create a home-like, nurturing environment for them and to see God’s love touch their lives.