Rosh Hashana 5781: Apple or Honey?

WIZO Day Care Center (photo credit Din Aharoni Rolland)
WIZO Day Care Center (photo credit Din Aharoni Rolland)

How was my year? Well, that all depends. Are you talking about B.C. – Before Corona or A.C. – After Corona?

With the onset of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year,  this Friday night, we take the opportunity to reflect on the year that passed and look forward to the coming year. The past year, 5780, breaks up quite evenly. Exactly half of it (from September 2019 – March 2020) was B.C. and the last since six difficult months have been A.C.

B.C. for me was an exciting period, mainly due to my work at WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization). Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, (the organization was founded in the UK in 1920) my first half of 5780 was filled with discovering and reporting on WIZO’s vital work. I visited WIZO’s day centers and schools and youth villages across Israel, seeing firsthand how WIZO shapes the lives of infants and toddlers and educates our youth.

WIZO Day Care Center (photo credit: Din Aharoni Rolland – WIZO)
A student at the WIZO Gan Vanof Youth Village in Petach Tikva (Photo credit: Din Aharoni Rolland – WIZO)

I paid visits to WIZO’s empowerment programs for teen girls and to their leadership programs for Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) and Druze women.

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WIZO’s first Druze “Otzma Tzeira” group of teenage girls from Daliat el-Carmel (Photo credit: WIZO – Otzma Tzeira)
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Ha’nivcheret- WIZO’s leadership program for Haredi women (Photo credit: WIZO)

I learned about domestic violence in Israel, which has risen dramatically since the Corona pandemic began, by going to WIZO’s womens’ shelters. And I spoke to Micha, one of the volunteers who answers calls at the WIZO Men’s Hotline, a support and counseling hotline for men seeking to extract themselves from the cycle of domestic violence,

And in January, as part of WIZO’s quadrennial EGM (Enlarged General Meeting) in which nearly 1,000 WIZO volunteer leaders and members from around the world arrived in Israel to celebrate the organization’s century of work for Israel’s society and its 100th birthday, I got to meet the women who make WIZO the worldwide powerhouse that it is.DSC 7704

 In short, B.C. I went out and experienced how WIZO changes lives, and in many cases saves lives.

So, how do I reconcile with the second half of the year, when many WIZO empowerment programs were put on hold, when visits to day care centers and schools and youth villages were limited.

“We are at the very beginning of a dramatic period in the history of Israel and WIZO,” World WIZO Chairperson Anita Friedman explained in March as the pandemic began to spread in Israel. “But together, we will overcome this.”

So, I put on my mask and kept the required distance when I recently joined World WIZO President Esther Mor (in photo below, seated at far left) on a visit to Neve WIZO, WIZO’s foster family homes. So it can be done, if done safely.

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Visit to Neve WIZO (Photo Credit: Yonatan Sredni)

But what about the WIZO slogan “Seeing is Believing“? I still present and share WIZO news and achievements (on the WIZO Facebook page, website, and elsewhere), albeit circumstances in the Corona period dictate that I cannot always do so in person. Can a “roving reporter” still report when roving is limited? And how do we all make peace with the two halves of this very split year, pre-Corona and post-Corona?

I believe I have found an answer, courtesy of Rabbi Aron Moss, rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and frequent contributor to Chabad.org., where he answers the following seemingly simple question with a profound answer.

Question: On Rosh Hashanah we eat apples and honey for a sweet new year. Why specifically apples and honey? There are many sweet foods. Is there anything significant about them?

Answer: There is a difference between the sweetness of an apple and the sweetness of honey. An apple is a sweet fruit which grows on a tree. There is nothing surprising about that—many fruits are sweet. But honey comes from a bee—an insect that is not only inedible, it actually stings. Nevertheless the honey that it produces is sweet. In fact, honey is sweeter than an apple!

Similarly, there are two types of sweetness in our lives: we have times of family celebration, successes in our careers, personal triumphs and harmonious relationships. These are sweet times like the apple is sweet. But then there is a different type of sweetness; a sweetness that comes from times of challenge. When things don’t go the way that we would like them to, when tragedy strikes, when our job is in jeopardy, when we fail to reach the goals we expected of ourselves, when our relationships are being strained and tested, when we feel alone.

At the time when we are facing these challenges, they seem bitter and insurmountable, like the sting of a bee. But if we are strong and withstand the difficult times, and overcome the obstacles to our own happiness, we reveal layers of our personality that we would never have tapped into if we weren’t challenged. Something deeper is brought out when we are tested. Tension in a relationship is painful, but there’s nothing better than reconciling after that tension. Losing a job is degrading, but how often it is that we find bigger and better things to move on to. Loneliness can eat us up, but it can open us to higher levels of self-knowledge too. We have all experienced events in our lives that at the time were painful, but in retrospect we say, “Thank G‑d for the tough times—imagine where I would be without them!”

So we eat apples and honey on the first day of the new year. We bless each other and ourselves that in the year to come the apples should bring sweetness, and what the bee stings bring should be even sweeter!

***

Taking the analogy of Rabbi Moss a step further, I believe I now have a handle on the year that was, 5780, and a way to approach the year that is about to begin, 5781.

The first half of 5780 (B.C. – Before Corona) was the apple. We gathered together and celebrated together and led our normal lives. The second half of the year (A.C. – After Corona) is more like the honey, which comes from the bee – and boy has that bee stung us – and continues to sting – since the Corona pandemic hit.

But as Rabbi Moss explains, through the challenges and difficult times we will get to taste the sweet honey from that bee. We are strong and we will withstand these difficult times and come out of this stronger, more united and yes, it will be a sweet new year.

One last WIZO thought. About a year ago I got to meet an inspiring group of WIZO student beekeepers from the WIZO Nir Ha’emek Youth Village in Afula. They not only learn how to be beekeepers, but they travel all over the world to proudly represent their WIZO school and the State of Israel in international young beekeeper competitions. Last year prior to Rosh Hashana they were invited to meet Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin at his official residence in Jerusalem at which they presented him with their honey.

When I asked one of the young beekeepers if he got stung a lot, he said yes, but it didn’t bother him and we moved on to the next question as if it were nothing. That’s the attitude we must have now during this challenging Corona period. Yes it stings, but we move forward.

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WIZO Nir Haemek beekeeping student Ori Shahaf, Liran Eliyahu, Itay Ostricher and Katrin Lukyanov, accompanied by their teacher Sharon Nir Inbar at Israeli President Rivlin’s residence prior to Rosh Hashana last year.

Wishing us all a SWEET new year – Shana Tova!

 

About the Author
I am the new Head of English Content at World WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) in Tel Aviv. As a male working for WIZO (also known as a "MIZO") I am in a very distinct minority. In this blog I hope to share my many eye-opening experiences at WIZO. Everything from firsthand accounts of visits to WIZO day care centers and youth villages to observing International Women's Day for the first time in my life.
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