Wednesday, October 11, 2006

High Holy Days in a Muslim Country

Hey everyone,
The holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Ramadan have either recently happened or are still going on. For Rosh Hashanah I set up a little ceremony with my host family and friends complete with challah, apples and honey. For Yom Kippur I went to Tambacounda to celebrate with other Jewih PCVs, I wrote an article about it for the Peace Corps Senegal newsletter, it's pasted below. For Ramadan I was under the weather when it started but I am in my second day of fasting out of solidarity, the thirst is definitely the hardest part. I'll post more on Ramadan here soon. Cheers, Becca

New Jewish Traditions in a Muslim Country
By Becca Schwartz

The Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were recently celebrated in homes and synagogues across the diaspora. Though its not quite as easy, as there aren’t any synagogues in the country and chances are the only torah in Senegal belongs to the folks at the Israeli Embassy, with a little creativity and initiative, Jewish PCVs are able to observe holidays here in Senegal. A short time ago, with the help of a couple prayer books, a few trips to the cyber cafĂ© and the coming together of several families’ traditions, Jewish PCVs gathered for Yom Kippur in Tambacounda.

Yom Kippur is the holiday where Jews attone for sins they have comitted in the past year, it is a time of repentance, forgiveness and fasting, similar to the Muslim hoilday of Ramadan. By chance, the Holy months of Ramadan and Tishrei (the Jewish month in which Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall) intersected this year. This overlap happens three years in a row, every 30 years so Jewish PCVs currently serving in Muslim countries have an opportunity for a special cultural exchange and interesting discussion.

Yom Kippur in the Tamba house turned out to be an interesting mix of joyful and solemn. Solemn because of the gravity of the holiday, thinking about what we had done wrong in the past year, promises we had broken and people we had hurt. It was a joyful time because of the community within the greater PCV community that was being formed. We were coming together to celebrate our common faith, culture and heritage. When we weren’t fasting we found joy in eating delicious, traditional Jewish foods. There is also a joyful optimism found in planning to be a better person in the coming year.

In Judaism, discussion about how the ancient prayers, traditions and laws pertain to our modern lives is important. We talked about the act of apologizing to someone we had wronged, forgiveness, the recent Israel-Lebanon war as well as the volatile relationship Muslims and Jews have had. As the sun dropped slowly toward the horizon, we took time to remember those lives that had been lost in the past year.

As the 26 hours of fasting came to an end, we decided to take our celebration onto the roof so we could see the first three stars in the evening’s sky that mark the end of our fast. One last opportunity was taken to atone for the sins we had committed against our communities, the earth, ourselves and God, before the fast was broken. During the meal of matzoh ball soup, latkes(potato pancakes), stir-fried okra and challah(braided bread) that followed, there was a real sense of closeness, of community and that wonderful feeling that maybe we had started a new tradition for future PCVs in Senegal.

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