I crave change in my life. I believe it is a pretty common human need. Some people change the color of their hair, start a new diet, and some buy a brand new wardrobe to satisfy this craving. As a kid I moved around quite a bit, and while starting over in a new place can be unnerving or scary, I always found a kind of thrill in it. When I decided to come to Israel in the wake of COVID-19, I was seeking change, but also a familiarity. The beginning of the pandemic was hectic; the future looked so murky and unsure. A change, yes, but one I have encountered before.

My Masa took place on a farm outside of Modiin. I was to spend the next five months studying permaculture design and living a sustainable, communal life in the company of other change-seeking folks from all over the world and Israel. Since I took part in the fall session, we had the beautiful tradition of Tishrei holidays to help ease into the farm and its many, many quirks.

On a sticky September afternoon Achinoam, the spiritual Judaism teacher on the farm, led our group into a mud house. The cool earth mixed with the smell of sage and lavender gave us respite from the heat of the Israeli summer. She writes shanah on the board in Hebrew. In my head I’m like: year, yeah. Then Achinoam continues with an explanation: Shanah has a deeper meaning when related to Rosh Hashanah. The word is connected to other words with the same shoresh (root). Shinun which means repetition and shoneh which means different or change are linked with the definition of shanah most are familiar with; the calendar year made up of four seasons.

Every year on Rosh Hashanah our tradition asks us to repeat the myriad of rituals associated with the holiday and to find newness in them. Achinoam used the image of a circle with a point on it. Every year we return to the same point (the rosh,head) which we call “the start of the year.” Since the imagery used in Rosh Hashanah focuses on circles it contradicts the idea of a beginning at all. However, the contradiction serves as a springboard for questions and self reflection. In order to find nuance and change we must repeat and practice shinun. It is the only way to understand the complexity we face as humans moving through time and space. Every year we concern ourselves with Rosh Hashanah and the holidays of Tishrei because it gives us a point of reference; otherwise, we would get lost in the abyss.

As I approach the end of this shanah, I am so grateful for the opportunity to compare where I am now versus where I was this time last year. In some ways I am in a completely different place (in Jerusalem, not on the farm) and in other ways I am still working to improve the same behaviors and thought patterns from the previous year. While that may sound discouraging, I find comfort in my own predictability because it grounds me when the ride gets bumpy.

Ella Padawer – Eco-Israel at Hava ve Adam Ecological Educational Farm in Modiin, Fall Session 2020

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