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High holidays in California

October 7, 2012

Rather than do the predictable thing and head to Israel for the high holidays this year, we decided it would be fun to visit Israelis in California instead.

While we didn’t attend services for Rosh Hashana, there was plenty of gefilte fish and other Jewish American holiday staples (namely brisket, which received rave reviews, though I can’t comment on it). We ate with my husband’s uncle’s family (he and his wife immigrated to Los Angeles in the 60s) and some expat Israeli friends of theirs.

For Yom Kippur we attended Kol Nidrei (All Vows) services in San Francisco with more cousins-in-law. It was the first time I had the chance to attend American services and I was excited to experience an event in English and with a very reformed congregation that doesn’t practice gender segregation at the synagogue so that I could actually sit next to the person I was there to support. In fact, there were musicians (and a banjo!) playing throughout the services, and all was presided over by a lady rabbi who also sang from time to time — it was very disorienting for my husband, who has only ever been to typical Israeli synagogues that are anything but reformed.

One thing that prevented us from attending American services in the past even when we were both in the States and interested in going was the cost. While I’m used to Christian holiday services where worshipers usually donate what they can when collection baskets are discretely passed around during a hymn, American Jewish holidays are different. It’s customary to purchase tickets in advance to attend holiday services, and depending on the synagogue, these tickets can be a major expense for those unaccustomed to the practice. In Boston, the place we wanted to go with friends for Passover one year cost $250 per ticket, which was a luxury poor students like us could not afford. We ended up eating Thai food at home instead. The place we attended in San Francisco was much more flexible, and we were able to give generously for us rather than being obligated to “donate” a fixed amount.

I’m so glad to have experienced American versions of the holidays this year. The city and country at large obviously didn’t celebrate en masse like in Israel — there was still tons of traffic on Yom Kippur rather than the vacant streets seen in Israel, and business and public transportation operated as usual — but I’ve always found celebrating culturally irrelevant holidays to be a very personal and meaningful experience that inspires a level of introspection and reflection often not present when celebrating with the majority.

Not to mention the scenery was pretty fantastic in California:

Seals sparring along Highway 1 in California

80-foot waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Point Lobos State Park in Carmel, California

Lone Cypress on 17 Mile Drive in Carmel

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

I hope everyone had a good holiday season (or a wonderful mid-September to early October, if you’re not involved in Jewish holidays)!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2012 1:02 am

    Shana Tova Katie! I’m glad you got to have that experience. I can’t believe the price you quoted for the service in Boston. Mapitom!

    • October 8, 2012 8:38 am

      Shana tova! It’s shocking, isn’t it? We were told this is because many if not most Jewish Americans only attend services during the major holidays and often more space needs to be rented out or special accomodations made depending on demand, hence the advance ticket sales and expense. Others think it’s an excuse to overcharge.

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