As an Oleh Chadash everything is new. New country, new language, new friends, new food, and now a new year. I’ve been watching our pomegranate tree in our garden these last three months growing big and heavy with fruit. My friend assured me that they would be ready for Rosh Hashanah. And they were. Miraculously red and ripe and ready for picking. Harvesting pomegranates was a fantastic activity to keep the children busy whilst I was sweating away in the kitchen over a stewing beef tagine (a delicious Jamie Oliver recipe that I swiped off the net).

However you don’t see Jerusalem from your steaming kitchen window. I wanted to see Jerusalem erev Rosh Hashana. Where do you go when you want to put your finger on the Jewish heart beat? The Kotel. So we boarded the free shuttle to the Kotel, that comes around every 20 minutes at the First Railway Station parking lot, organised by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

It was a hot sunny day, as these chamsin days are want to be. The final specks of last weeks dust storm still floating around as we stood in the Kotel entrance line waiting to clear security. We stood in two separate lines for women and men. I saw modestly dressed, ultra Orthodox women pushing forward eager to get through to the Kotel, their Psalm books already open, silently mouthing the words so they don’t waste a minute. There was a super size man with a bushy ginger beard walking in a deep sweat to the wall, proudly brandishing a long, twirling, shiny shofar fit for the Messiah. We passed what looked like exotic South Americans, although I’m still not sure who they were. It was a procession of colourfully clothed people. Ornate and stately as they returned from their visit to the wall. It felt like I had walked into an Alice in Wonderland zone, as people from all over the world pilgrimaged to the wall.


Looking for inspiration at a wall, doesn’t seem to make much sense. ‘It’s just a wall,’ some Jerusalemites have cynically pointed out to me. But I have to admit the emotion wells up, unbeckoned when I see an Asian woman silently crying over her open bible (which looked like it was in Chinese), bound in a pink leather case. Why are they here? I think to myself. Why am I here? For inspiration, for meaning. And I find it, not just in the time worn stones that tears have hallowed away. But in the people, from all over the world, who come, with faith, with belief in one God. And it’s a reminder of the utopian dream, of all peoples of the world coming to the one place, to pray to one God. Together.


An idealistic, romantic dream which reminded me of how the Jews used to gather in the past. Like the time described in Ezra Nehemiah’s time when the second Temple was first built, men, women and children gathered on Rosh Hashana morning, and the Torah was read to them. Their response was to cry. Some commentaries say because they felt so regretful of all their wrongdoings, as we tend to feel on Rosh Hashana. The leaders and Levites hushed them and said, don’t cry, it’s a day of joy, go home, feast with your family and friends and send out food parcels to those in need. On the Day of Judgement what counts is being together as Jews, with our families and friends, and taking care of the vulnerable ‘have nots’ in our society.

Feasting on Rosh Hashana, we Jews don’t have to be told twice. In Jerusalem the feasting of two days, meant the shopping centres were manically full, and the milk shelves empty. Coming from refugee stock, Israelis are not going to risk doing without.

Giving to the poor is also a very practical matter in Jerusalem. Emek Refaim has its local beggars who appear every Friday, and there are also new ones just for Rosh Hashana. The man with the gangrene leg who as you give to him, insists on showing you his foot that looks like off chicken. I loved giving to the woman with white hair who sanguinely sat and read her newspaper, her money cup in front of her. When do you see beggars read? Then there’s the wrinkly, old woman who does her rounds, and heaps blessings upon your head as you hand her coins. It’s nice to give, these people are down and out. Who knows what their stories are.


The feeling in Jerusalem over the High Holidays, is at once serious – you need to stock the fridge – and joyously communal. As everyone wishes each other Shana Tova – a good year. From the chocolates at Aroma cafe to the people on the street. Ready for the shofar blows that resound the next morning over and over again.