Rosh Hashanah Story

There is nothing like the holidays in Israel -- especially in Jerusalem! Raizel Druxman shares a fun memory of Rosh Hashanah in Israel -- and what can happen when cultures collide!

A young Jewish man praying at the Western Wall
A young Jewish man praying at the Western Wall

I will never forget the look on her face.

It was Rosh Hashanah, and I was with my French, Algerian friend, Sarah, at the Mayanot Shul in Jerusalem. Mayanot is a Habad Shul with a Carlebach twist (tons of amazing singing) and welcomes every kind of Jew.

Sarah usually goes to a Sephardic minyan but this year she braved it and came with me to Maayanot for Ashkenazi style Rosh Hashanah prayers. Little did she (or I) know how drastically different the prayers are.

One of my favorite parts of the service is when we bow all the way to the floor during the prayer, Aleinu. Using my entire body in prayer really connects me to the experience in a deeper way. When we got to that part, I started getting ready, moving my chair out of the way, and placing a tissue on the floor (so I don't bow directly on the stone floor). I peeked at my friend and noticed that she wasn't preparing herself but I just went back to my own preparations, lost in the moment. I bowed to the ground, soaking in the moment, feeling deeply connected.


When I got up from the floor, I glanced at my friend to see a look of horror on her face. She looked like she had just seen me worship an idol or do a pagan sacrifice. Her mouth agape, eyes still in shock, she demanded to know, "Why are you bowing?! Why is everyone bowing on the floor?!"


Why do we bow on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur during the Aleinu? It's the time of atonement, and during that prayer, we bow all the way down to the ground. Usually, we just bend our knees and lower our heads, but during this particularly profound time, we prostrate ourselves all the way to the ground.

It was my turn to be in shock. "What do you mean, why are we bowing?!", I questioned, "You don't bow in your shul?!"


"NO!!" She said with horror still in her eyes. As we both slowly understood the cultural collision that had just occurred, we burst into laughter. I explained a little bit about the Ashkenazi tradition and she confirmed that her community definitely never bowed to the floor.


I reflect back on that moment with such awe. It was a precious moment of discovery. Jews come from all over the world and sometimes have drastically different traditions, but they are all part of Judaism. It was so special to share that moment with her, broaden my view of what's "normal" in Judaism and understand that I have so much to learn about how other Jews practice Judaism.

Sarah never came back with me to Maayanot for Rosh Hashana prayers (she decided to stick to her Sephardic roots), but we still laugh about that moment when our Jewish traditions collided mid-services - and I will forever remember the look on her face as a reminder of all the rich Jewish traditions that I have yet to discover.

Maybe next year.