A New Year, A New Community

By Chris Khoury, Michigan State University student, studying abroad at the Rothberg International School – Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Rosh Hashanah. The new year. This was the first time that I observed the holiday, and being in Jerusalem made it all the more incredible. The holiday was eerily appropriate, coinciding with the start of my year-long study abroad in Jerusalem—truly the start of very new year for me. But this wasn’t what I focused on during the holiday. Instead, I focused on the incredible sense of community, which I encountered everywhere during these two days—beginning with the services I attended on Wednesday night.
Along with a larger group of students, I was invited to welcome in the new year at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Jerusalem.  Having arrived at HUC early, we sat in the pews, and planned on chatting for a while—until we realized what was happening around us. People began approaching one another to introduce themselves, and then proceeded to talk and laugh like old friends. For someone who grew up in a town where people only interacted with strangers in order to make purchases, I was amazed at the ease with which these people were able to mingle with one another.
The service itself served only to reinforce this atmosphere. Full of passages praising family and community, the service built upon the communal sense which I had already begun to experience.  Even the service’s music felt communal. The few members of the choir would start singing a basic melody at first. Then, as the song progressed, the rest of the choir would join in, growing louder. Finally, little by little, the congregation would start singing, until everyone in the room, regardless of age, gender, and especially pitch, was filling the synagogue with music. I still don’t know whether this was intentional or not, but it encapsulated the sense of togetherness that I felt within that room.
The Friday night following Rosh Hashanah, I gathered with a couple of friends for a small, informal Shabbat dinner in their apartment.  While attending their Rosh Hashanah services, perfect strangers had invited them to their homes for dinner.  They spoke of long tables piled high with delicious food, around which gathered people like themselves–foreigners who had no local close friends or family to share the new year.
This overpowering sense of community, these simple acts of human kindness were not only touching; they were above all encouraging. In a world where global economic recovery and stability seem more fantasy than reality, where ruthless tyrants brutally resist the forces of democracy, and where decades-old problems still threaten peace and security for millions of people, it is reassuring to know that these acts are still possible. If this sense of community holds strong this coming year, then the new year will truly be a shana tova.

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