My First Month In The Lehigh Valley

By Rotem Bar
Israeli Shlicha

Editor’s Note: Rotem is in the Lehigh Valley as a shlicha, a cultural emissary, who will be bringing Israeli culture, food, programming and more to the community during the next year.

As the new Jewish year begins (5779), so does my journey here in the Lehigh Valley. Both the Jewish new year and the start of my year here feel very symbolic. This past month was a month to understand how things work around here, to reflect, meet and observe just before I can dive in. The Jewish new year is a time to do “heshbon nefesh” which is the Hebrew way of saying recalculating our soul. Or in other words, How can we improve ourselves and become better people in this world? How can we be better to our family, friends, neighbors and to those who differ from us? So during this time, not only am I doing “heshbon nefesh,” I am also thinking about the next year. How can I use my role as shlicha this year to “bring Israel to life” in the community? How can I take advantage of the opportunity that fell into my lap in the best way possible?

Even though I have just left Israel, being away during the holidays feels almost unnatural to me. Holidays in Israel feel like magic. I miss the custom of having a Rosh Hashanah toast. I miss that everyone is wearing white, everything closes early, walking in the street and passing different houses you can smell the cooking smells coming out of the different homes. I miss the calm music that plays on the radio and I even miss that the whole country stands together in traffic jams.

 On Yom Kippur here, the cars didn’t stop, there weren't any bicycles on empty roads, everything outside was just like any other day of the week and the TV channels didn’t say “we will be back to regular broadcast after Yom Kippur” as they do in Israel. But even though everything on the outside was like a normal day, on the inside it wasn’t. Here, I felt the holidays because I chose to feel them. Because the community here chooses to feel them. Yom Kippur in Allentown was my first Yom Kippur at a synagogue and I am sure I will never forget that. I feel like I now understand a little more about the Jewish community here. Unlike in Israel where you don’t have to do much in order to feel and celebrate the holidays, here it’s a choice to celebrate and practice the Jewish holidays and that means a lot.

I have met wonderful people from the community here that have opened their hearts and homes to me and I am grateful. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate the holidays with you and for making me feel welcome.

It feels like I only got here a few days ago, but already a whole month went by. I’m very excited for the year to come, I hope to meet many more community members, and I wish all of you a shanah tovah!


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