The High Holy Days at Etz Hayyim
The now annual presence of Leon Asher from Tel Aviv for at least Rosh HaShannah obviated some of the challenges that accumulate prior to the Festival. Leon came across us some years ago when he arrived unknown and very quiet. Stavroulakis had only recovered from a bout of the flu and when it came time to blow the shofar Leon very quietly offered his help and the big Yemeni shofar was gratefully handed over and all but the roof of the synagogue came off. After the service we took him to dinner that had to be rushed as he had to get back to Herakleion to catch a 12:30 flight back to Eretz… but he offered to return in several days to help for Yom Kippour. In the course of dinner the mystery of his proficiency with the shofar was solved when he told us that every day he used a shofar to call his dogs back home after their morning run. On Erev Yom Kippour he returned to Hania and was a great help for the Kol Nidre service and also Neilah on the following day, again, after which he had to rush back to Herakleion to catch his plane. He mentioned a one point that what drew him to our Synagogue was that it had neither ceiling nor roof – that prayers went straight up to Heaven!
Since that time Leon has returned each year for the High Holidays and this year he returned with his wife Kerin and their two children aged 5 months and 18 months and they gave us a special present by insuring that annually they will come back for the haggiam – and even suggested that next year would be with us for Pesah as well.
Rosh Hashannah evening service was well attended with some 50 people and afterwards as usual we had a community dinner at a nearby restaurant. An enormous sea bass had been prepared but prior to its appearance was the kiddush followed by bowls of sliced apples, and pomegranates, smothered in honey; after which were served a variety of traditional Romaniote and Sephardic foods. A tradition in Greece dictates that the head (rosh in Hebrew) of the fish is parcelled out as honorific. Happily for the Director this year there were some squeamish responses to being offered the eyes, tongue, cheeks and brain of the fish!
For Kol Nidre the parohet in the Synagogue was changed for one in white. As we had a quite small attendance we didn’t mount the Siphrei Torah onto the Bema but simply opened the Ehal…and the service was done in Hebrew and English. The following morning we began at 9:00 and a young Israeli and his wife were with us as well…in the late afternoon we recited the Book of Jonah together and began Neilah at 18:30 with the shofar, alas less proficiently blown than had been done for Rosh Hashannah , blown as required…bringing to an end a somewhat arduous week as we had many, many foreign visitors.
The Sukkah supports had been laid out prior to Yom Kippour as we anticipated that Shabbat would follow. By the eve of the Festival it was beautifully hung with appropriate fruits and vegetables and paper chains of many colours. Ivo and Blythe Hribek who were married in our Synagogue two years ago (and newborn child) had arrived from Prague as anticipated and Ivo led the blessing over the Sukkah after which we had a community dinner In the courtyard. During the following days lulav and etrog were available on the tevah for personal prayers.
Simhat Torah was quiet though we did have a meal in the courtyard after arvit prayers.
We wish to thank all of our many visitors during the haggim and their commitment to our Synagogue…and to wish them many blessings for the New Year.