Evening of the Roses

The air smelled different yesterday.

The streets were eerily silent and crowds were nowhere to be found.

There was something sweet and trailing and exhausted about the post Rosh Hashanah air.

Maybe it was my fever (and quite possibly an ear infection), but the atmosphere was confusingly still.

I get like that sometimes. I feel like i’m in a bubble. When I’m over tired I get emotional and nauseatingly poetic.

That’s the chick who will text you with “God I love this country. It smells like all my favourite things. It smells like nirvana. Oh my god it smells like home. I love it here.” And then I’ll fizzle out and internally weep over my sense of belonging and love-love ’amok mikol halev (that’s also when I start speaking Henglish.)

Contrary to what you might think though, it wasn’t the aftereffects of a fever. This country was spent, was drenched in bittersweet tears and deliberate joy.

The days of awe began with a parting. Israel buried its last physical, breathing tether to the past, to independence, to the beginning of redemption. He could say that he remembered it. He could tell us all about the figures we can only now read about.

And even though he wasn’t perfect, even though you may not have liked him, even though you may have loved him, this country was sad.

With Shimon Peres now gone, this country is no longer in its first flush of political youth. The days of romance are over. The days where living on a dream could get you through anything are now evanescent.

And it happened days before Rosh Hashanah, the last day to end the days of the year.

Rosh Hashanah is about conclusions. It’s fooling you if you think it’s about beginnings.

Look back. Take stock of your life. Think and remember, not the other way around.

With all its mixed messages of repentance and euphoria, its endings and beginnings, Rosh Hashanah is always hard to prepare for. Granted, it’s a confusing holiday. It’s both sad and joyful, a perplexing combination of awe inspiring teshuvah  and the joy that comes with new life.

It’s the ani ledodi  v’ledodi li complex. I love you but somehow that’s a tragedy.

Today is wonderful but painful.

To give love to you, to declare loyalty and faithfulness to you, I must sacrifice a part of myself.

I am beloved and my beloved is mine.

I love this country, but sometimes it hurts.

A man is dead and with him, a piece of our nation’s recent founding.

Ani l’edodi v’ledodi li is mainly a one lyric serenade. It’s a love song between God and his people.

“Hey people, I’m here. Come closer to me.”

Yet the city felt far away.

I ran from it, the night before the levayah, worried I wouldn’t be able to travel the next day because of all the road closures and the influx of world dignitaries.

So on the day meant to end and begin all things I would be separated from the city that claims to bring us closest to our beloved.

Instead of the Judean Hills to greet me on my mirpeset after a yom tov meal, I had the Elah Valley as my backyard.

Instead of wishing my neighbour chag sameach, kol tuv, ktivah v’chatimah tovah, I wished my bubby down the phone and all the anglos who came after “Gut Yomtiv, a gut yor.”

Amidst the cooking and the cleaning and trying to get work done on my lap top on erev rosh hashanah, my sister reminded me why it’s ok to leave Jerusalem sometimes, why it’s ok for it to be silent, why it’s ok for it to be a place mingled with some weird sorrowful joy.

She doesn’t know she helped me realise this. It all came from some humming (she’d think it nuts to extrapolate this from me sitting in front of a laptop humming, and her humming along as she grabbed something out of the freezer).

It lay in my song. The one I hummed. It had been on my mind all week. I had a blog post in the works. A whole story flowed from it. And yes, it brought on thoughts about the old world with  all its hope and romance and bitter awareness that it was in love with a hard land.

Erev Shel Shoshanim, Ne’tzeh na el ha bustan…mor, besamim, ou levonah-“

My sister popped her head up from the freezer and started singing along.

“You heard that too! They’re playing it on galgalatz.”

They were playing it on galgalatz(music station, also army radio).

But they were playing a  song by a French (Russian?) pop group who had composed some remix EP. It was English lyrics with bits of Erev Shel Shoshanim autotuned over the chorus and one line of the song used as a hook in the middle to break the monotony.

It wasn’t the folk song that spoke of love, composed by people like my uncle, who were just learning how to be soft about their ardor for a land they had fought for.

When I first heard the French(or Russian?) pop song, “Save me” it forced me to look up the original version of Erev Shel Shoshanim by the Dudaim.

And it got me all emotional.

They played that song as my eldest sister walked down the aisle at her school bat mitzvah.

So maybe it was an early memory.

But then it also reminded me of something else.

It conjured up an image my maternal grandmother used to have up on her wall in her bedroom. In a grainy 60’s snapshot, my uncle squatted in a field of roses, a brooding stare aimed at the camera. I’m not sure when he sent it to her, or made it for her. He spent his formative years in Israel and only really experienced a few out of it.

There’s an aspect of that picture that epitomises the essence of what’s gone, of what we’re all mourning with the burial of an ex-president, with the steamrolling of a new year without the past.

It’s beautiful, and innocent and so full of love. My uncle was part of that landscape, a strong stem, like the rest of the flowers beside him, with the re’ach shoshanah. His love was fierce, like roots that take hold and grow, but are quiet in their progress. His love was kind and gentle and good. And sweet, like the rose.

His moshav is covered in it. That recent past when songwriters of this country were on the second cusp of love. When they sang that ballad after years of  a winsome, faithful marriage to a place. Our love has only flourished.

And that’s why, even when I’m leaving Jerusalem, even when I’m in a bubble and the roads feel empty, and several of the flags are still at half mast, I look for it somewhere. The re’ach shel shoshanah.

In the people. In the coincidences, in the holy kindnesses passed from smile to smile.

I find it in the soldier, who is running after group of fellows making their way to the buses in front of the beit chayal, heaving with bags of junk food and snacks and what not from the shuk. He turns back as they pass my bus stop, purposely lagging behind.

“Dana! Dana Sheli, Le’hitrayot.” He’s turned around mid step, hand over his kippah, the other over his gun, his face full of humour and secret knowledge, as he reaches a parting hand out to a girl in a mitpachat, naot and army backpack, who is waving back at him as she waits at a traffic light.

I find it in the stall owner at the shuk who always gives me a matana, and manages to ring up my food in haste. Despite that, his brusqueness is always tinged with goodwill and charm.

I find it in the french olah who remembers me as I wander into the health food store and asks me how I am, and wonders what I do with vegan cheese.

I find it in the wonderful fact that we make festivals in celebration of the harvesting of our fruits and we bring our families to pick cherries, and strawberries and flowers and find joy in the fact that everything is blooming.

There is something different in the air today. The days of the first passion are over. They have been for two thousand years. And yet, an awe-inspiring thing is still renewed. Our love.

(*P.S- Please listen to this version of Erev Shelf Shoshanim by Mike Brant and Nan Mouskouri. It’s stunning and was much easier to enjoy AND track down. The dud aim version was annoying to sniff out and not half as transporting.)

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