Traditional Jews celebrate their new year at summer’s end, but this year it arrived quite late, in early October. Please, however, don’t ever say this to my-husband-the-rabbi who sneers when I say things like that, retorting, “It isn’t late. It’s exactly on time. The way G-d designed it.” Ignoring him, I’d like to point out that this year Hanukkah came at the same time as Christmas, making it harder for Jewish parents to protest that the two holidays have nothing in common. Jewish kids in public school struggle with the retelling of the Maccabees and the miracle of an untainted flask oil lying around the ruins of the Temple. Latkes and jelly-donuts might distract these youngsters for a while but, ho-ho-ho, a dreidel and menorah can’t hold a candle to an electrically lit Vermont pine and pile of mylar-wrapped gifts. Folderol aside, I try not to miss the Old Country, defensively reflecting on how marvelous it is to live an authentically Jewish life in the only Jewish country in the world. It works about half the time because January in Israel is one gantze ‘blah.’ Crappy weather, but not cold enough for really stylish winter clothing. (One neighbor, upon seeing my LL Bean catalog, asked if it was a cholent factory). We do get snow periodically in Jerusalem, but it’s sub-par, lasting a day or two on the oily ground, and no one knows what to do with it, except for the immigrant Russians and me. We make a few anemic snowmen in the parking lot and throw mushy snowballs—more like snow-latkes—at our children, pretending to have a blast. Most of my neighbors don’t even own water-repellent boots because, hey, we live in the desert and they resort to tying plastic, logo-imprinted grocery bags over their Nikes. I open my doors to the building’s youngsters, offering paper cups of homemade hot cider and cocoa. The experience, en toto, is pathetic. Jews aren’t supposed to make resolutions in January because we’ve technically done the work by the end of Sukkot. And the three daily prayers we are required to intone—Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv— supply ample refresher-paragraphs that keep the High Holy Day plaints front-and-center of Heaven’s bracha department. How do I know this stuff? I just do. Like everyone else, I’m on a diet (again) and resolve to be thin by Passover. But I digress. Let’s get back to “January.” While everyone else was in synagogue praying during Yom Kippur, I was hospitalized with a brutal infection from total knee-replacement gone-awry. The surgery occurred just before Rosh HaShanah which meant that religious-me paid almost no-dues during the most important plea-period of our year. Thinking I might never walk again, I spent the autumn and early winter dreaming of cross-country skiing, ice-skating, bicycle riding and snorkeling in the Red Sea. Skiing and ice-skating are rare activities in this country during the best of times but that isn’t the point. I wanted my legs back but, with a plethora of complications, my dreams were repeatedly put on “hold.”But Israel’s blessedly-blah winter weather permits me to, with or without a cane, walk to the Old City and pray at the kotel for the first time in years. I can ride a bicycle again and hop off as I please, whenever the aroma of fresh falafel calls my name. I can take out the garbage and wade into the ocean. January provides me with a brand new opportunity to scream gratitude from every roof-top along with a heartfelt, “Shana Tova, one and all!”
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.