[Insert apologies and excuses here. Move on.] It hasn’t been that nothing has happened; it’s actually that a lot has happened. I’m not going to be able to log it all, regardless of how I might wish to. I’ll give it a shot.
It’s interesting how the word ‘interesting’ can be used. An event or experience can be ‘interesting!’ or ‘interesting’ or ‘interesting…’. It’s an almost-neutral word that can express volumes – but must have context or, at the very least, accompanying facial expressions.
There are some situations in which the word simply does not suffice. For example, receiving an enormous box from a very special aunt is not interesting; it’s amazingly awesome! Especially when it contains Jell-O, which I can’t get here because it’s not kosher (I think the gelatin is a pork product), and books and energy bars and a “packable” hat and a sewing kit – the ultimate combination of complete practicality and utter frivolity. And extremely creative wrapping material, which for now is lending a bit of color to my plaster-and-tile decor, as pictured below. Oh, yes, my room does look a little more lived-in now.
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, was last weekend. It actually starts on Wednesday evening (at sundown, naturally) and ends with Shabbat, which finishes on Saturday evening. However, there are no fireworks, parades, or other events one might associate with a secular celebration. The reasoning, as explained by my Orthodox Hebrew teacher, goes like this:
This particular time on the lunar calendar is supposed to be the time that, about six millenia ago, God created the earth (I suppose Orthodox Jews hold to the literal day). Also, it’s supposed to be the time, every year, when God decides what will happen in the next year. It is therefore advisable to pray a lot during this time, as He is, according to tradition, making these momentous decisions. Hence, the days of Rosh Hashana (literally “head of the year”) is spent in the synagogue, praying – at least for religious Jews – and around the table, praying and eating with family.
The prayers don’t just happen on Rosh Hashana, either. The entire month before is known as the month of “slichot“. “Slichah” is what you say when you bump into somebody or want their attention, kind of like a combination “excuse me/forgive me/sorry/may I have your attention” (I seem to say it an awful lot), so “slichot” are the prayers for forgiveness. For the people who are really serious about it, they start at four in the morning. Apparently there are sometimes tours for visitors through Jerusalem – at four in the morning – and you can hear all the prayers from the street and visit several synagogues. The idea is for the supplicant to examine his or her life over the past year. ask forgiveness for sins, and figure out how they can improve.
Wow. An entire month of soul-searching definitely qualifies as “interesting”.
I ate the Wednesday evening meal with an Orthodox campus organization. I had clearly stated to the rabbi beforehand that I was a Gentile and a Christian, so it was definitely not in my comfort zone to be in an unfamiliar situation with people I didn’t know, with a language I was barely acquainted with, and to be one of three women in a room of fifteen guys. Oh, and I was the only one who wasn’t Jewish, so I could switch the lights on.
As women, we lit the candles (married women light two, single women one) and said the blessing over them; we were separate from the men during prayers. Prayers were taken from a section of the prayer-book specific to Rosh Hashana; they were mostly derivatives from the Psalms, along with a few from a book that I don’t believe is considered canon in the Christian Old Testament. The prayers were either said together, individually, or by the rabbi. At points they evolved into acappella song, kind of like some responsive readings in a traditional Lutheran church. (Ex. “The Lord be with you” – “And also with you…”) Except in the U.S. the language tends to be English.
After the prayers was the meal. Almost every dish had some kind of symbolism. The traditional apples and honey, for example, are accompanied with wishes for “a good year and a sweet year”. In fact, almost everything was sweet – bread dipped in honey, sweet wine, honeyed carrots. I can’t remember what the carrots were supposed to represent. There were the cold, seasoned salads that are always served here, and the main meat was fish. Fried fish, gfilterfish (sp?), baked salmon. The saying goes, “May we be the head and not the tail.” The logic is that the tail of the fish only follows the head; the head does the actual thinking and leading. Thus, the sentiment is to lead and be in charge of one’s own destiny, not to follow the crowd. As a reinforcement, a baked fish head was passed around the table, and everyone took a tiny bit of meat out of the back and ate it. I tried not to wonder whether I was actually eating meat or something else. I’m pretty sure it was meat. At the conclusion of the dinner, everyone stated their wishes or resolutions for the new year and toasted.
So yes, it was “interesting…”
The start of the new year is also the start of a month jam-packed with holy days – consequently holidays. Yom Kippur is ten days after Rosh Hashana, which is this weekend, and all businesses will again be closed. Soon after that is Sukkot. The upshot of this is that there are no classes for three weeks, just because there’s no way to keep a consistent class routine with all the interruptions.
Therefore I have finals in two days. I’m really ready for this Ulpan to be over. Four hours of language instruction per day can really take it out of you. So I’ve been studying and trying to figure out Adobe Illustrator and procrastinating about updating my blog and photos.
On the bright side, I watched Sean’s “Mathematics of Aesthetics” lectures – at least the ones that he has up so far – and realized just what a nerd I am. Or maybe just what nerds Rice kids in general are. But there are things in life that are just really cool, and if I want to spend the time to be find out about them, then the rest of the world can go do its stuff elsewhere.
Random quote of the day:
Sean: Tim, what is a group?
Tim: A set with a binary operation that satisfies a theory or axioms.
Sean: But in English…