Tishrei in Berlin

When I first moved to Berlin, two-and-a-half years ago, naïf and dreamy-eyed and enthusiastic for the endless possibilities I imagined I would find in this crazy city, I started taking German classes at the Volkshochschule. In one of the first classes, we did a typical language-class exercise, the kind where the teacher assumes that everyone in the class is quaint and exotic compared to the teacher’s absolutely normal German culture. So we were asked to write about our favourite festival, and I spent a good few hours thumbing through my Hebrew-German dictionary and writing about Yom Kippur. When I got the paper back, as well as underlining all my spelling and grammar mistakes, the teacher’s comments were all questions about Yom Kippur: what’s the point of it? why did I call it a festival? do people enjoy it? And she thought Israelis in Berlin didn’t do any of that stuff, anyway.

I like the month of Tishrei. I like its madness, I like the food and the songs, I like the prayers and the shofar, I like the way it doesn’t fit into Western concepts of what a new year should be about, I like its aesthetics. Growing up in Jerusalem and London, it seemed everyone was rushing around for an entire month, dressed in white, from synagogue to meals to sukkah to more meals to other synagogues. I really appreciated the privacy of Yom Kippur prayers (despite my German teacher’s disbelief), but also meetings with friends before and after.

This will be my third Tishrei in Berlin, and like everything else about this city, festivals are different here. Jewish life here is smaller and more divided than I was used to. But I’ve also had some lovely experiences here in the last year that I’m looking forward to emulate again: loud and friendly potluck dinners on Rosh Hashanah at Fraenkelufer; going to the mikveh in Oranienburgerstrasse before Yom Kippur, and welcoming services there too; going to midnight slichot at Lauder and sharing the ride back to Neukölln with clubbers on their way to their own prayers; and Simchat Torah with dozens of children and way too much chocolate (and later, after they’d left, way too much alcohol!) And friends, and a real feeling of community.

I can’t wait for this year. Shana tova u’metuka.

Josh

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