Julian Resnick writes from Israel
We all use phrases connected with time in our everyday lives. ‘See you soon/later’ or ‘you must pop in sometime’ or ‘just now’.
Or, from my years growing up in Somerset West in our little Jewish community, there were some Jewish versions too, like ‘Shabbes a fortnight’ (in other words, never), or ‘Alle Montig and Donershtig’ (if some of you grew up in a different way from the way I grew up, the last one means ‘every Monday and Thursday’, and for years I had no idea that it was connected to the days we read from the Torah).
Language is never neutral, and reflects the culture we are a part of, either as part of the mainstream or when we find ourselves in the minority. Just think of the following example. When I wanted someone to believe the story I was telling them after a weekend in the big city, in the playgrounds of Somerset West Primary School, (my grandparents on both sides lived in the huge metropolis of Cape Town, one set in Fresnaye and the other in Oranjezicht, while my local Somerset West friends usually had grandparents no further than the Strand or maybe Gordon’s Bay) I could never bring myself to say to them ‘cross my heart and hope to die’. I just could not, even though it took me many years to understand that this was a reference to a certain messianic figure we (the Joodjies) were not too fond of because of the way his end of life experience had impacted on us over the years. More so possibly in Lithuania, but there were clearly some residual effects even in Somerset West — and later in my high school days at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, but that is another story for ‘nog a dag’ — which brings us back to time questions. But, I forgot to mention that our way of guaranteeing truth telling had been ‘ten fingers on the Jewish Torah’ — you realise of course how well that went over in the playground of Somerset West Primary!
When you have spent parts of your life, as many South African Jews have, in other parts of the world, like the US, Canada, the UK or Australia, you begin to realise that, even though you are theoretically speaking the same language as the locals, there are crucial differences. They can cause quite serous misunderstandings. Take for example the ultimate cultural error made by ex-South African newbies in, say, Los Angeles, New York or San Diego. You meet, at work, a local Jew and you think to yourself, perhaps… perhaps this is my breakthrough moment to becoming a part of the local community when they say to you, “You must come over soon.” You go home and share with your family the great news. “They want us to visit them very soon.” And then you wait and wait and wait for the invitation, finally realising that you must come over soon often means That’s enough now. Hold your horses (American Western reference which could be used by Billy Crystal or Gene Wilder).
Back to time references
Now, I learned Hebrew as a young adult, as Paul Roos Gimnasium Stellenbosch, where Johann Rupert and I went to school, did not offer Hebrew (truth be told, my high school career was chequered, so I went to Hottentots Holland High School, Paul Roos Gimnasium and Cape Town High School, but none of them offered Hebrew). I learned Hebrew on three Ulpanim; the Machon L’Madrichei Chutz La’aretz in Jerusalem, Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu when I made Aliyah and in the IDF where my first month of service was spent learning Hebrew. So I learned Israeli Hebrew; not the Hebrew of the Siddur, but the Hebrew used in everyday life in Israel. I learned the words needed to order and buy food; the words needed when you are looking for a relationship (and then I go and marry a totally bilingual Israeli and speak English to her and my children over the past almost 40 years as a family); the words needed to persuade the traffic policeman that you do not normally drive faster than the speed limit; the words needed to argue with bureaucrats. The words needed to live life. The words for place and the words for time, when you are in that place and are using Israel Standard Time as your local time.
We all know Jewish time. We all know that, especially here in Israel, when you receive an invitation for a wedding for 7pm, it does not actually mean 7pm. And if you are punctual — because it is what you were taught at home in Somerset West, that punctuality is a way of being respectful to people — and you arrive at 7pm for the wedding, you will be there just as the caterer arrives, way before the family of the bride, around the same time the rabbi is about to begin performing the earlier wedding he is officiating, which was supposed to begin at 4pm — and the Chuppah at the earlier wedding is being unfolded as you park your car. Your 7pm wedding will begin around 9pm and some people will be shocked that it began just before they arrived. That is what having a Jewish state has meant for us. We can, as an entire nation, run late.
But wedding times, brit milah times, bar and bat mitzvah times, are all small fry. Nothing to write home about. The real time issue in Israel, which functions for a huge part of any year is known as אחרי החגים, Acharei Hachaggim (after the holidays). The Chaggim in question are of course Chaggei Tishrei which seem every year to go on forever. They begin with, no they begin before, Rosh Hashanah. The order is Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah (and for some continues into Yisro Chag). Just this period takes around 24 days. If you take a year like this one where Erev Rosh Hashanah was 6 September and Yisro Chag 30 September — a Thursday — it begins to expand even further.
Why? School begins on 1 September which means that there were only three school days before it all shut down for the Chaggim. Yisro Chag was on a Thursday, so of course most people take a ‘Gesher’ (a bridge) and life then begins only on the Sunday 3 October. It gets worse. How come? July and August are school holidays and therefore in Israel this year, and it is typical of most years, for about three months, if you needed a plumber, a carpenter, your roof fixed, a hair transplant, a nose job, a print job, in short if you needed to move your life forward, you knew what answer you were going to get, “Acharei Hachaggim”.
Some people in Israel tear their hair out around this time of the year. I don’t (and not only because I have been totally bald for many years). I think that this reality is also a positive one, and one which in fact we were looking to create when we came home to build our Jewish State. We wanted to be the ones to determine our day of rest, the school year, that the holidays should not only be summer holidays, but also that schools should close for Pesach, Chaggei Tishrei, Channukah. We wanted to determine the way we relate in the workplace to time; not only for funerals, but also for shiva and shloshim. We wanted the offices to grind to a halt for weddings, bnei mitzvah and britot. We wanted to read about traffic police deciding not to give traffic tickets just after Yom Kippur. We are delighted that our birth rate is so high that many people are constantly on maternity leave (and happily in recent times also paternity leave).
And that really is the essence of life here in the Jewish State. Farhesia (the public domain) is in our hands, as is our time-frame. So, you know what, I will wait until after the Chaggim to…
I have to go now, as the planes tend to leave on time; even here; even El Al. Off to Morocco. Perhaps next time I will write about my upcoming road trip to Morocco.
Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah to 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.
• Published in the PDF edition of the November 2021 issue – Click here to get it.
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