Taipai

View of Taipei, Taiwan

I have always been interested in the global Jewish community. My senior year at Brandeis University, I lived in a suite with a Colombian Jew, Russian Jew and Turkish Jew, and our friends were Jews from Mexico, France, Israel and Brazil. This diversity of Jewry piqued my interest, and later I would go on to write a column for the Jerusalem Post called “Tales of a Wandering Jew” about Jewish communities in far-flung places.

Prior to settling in Phoenix for my position as the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix, I lived quite the nomadic lifestyle. For many years, I traveled all around the world running cultural diplomacy programs and I had no fixed address. As such, I got to spend many High Holidays in a lot of random spots. I have celebrated Rosh Hashanah in places as varied as Antwerp and Brussels, Buenos Aires and Mexico City. Thanks to these cultural exchanges, I had the opportunity to see how the Jewish world celebrates our shared celebrations with cultural nuances that shaped the holidays.

There was one year where I was running a hip hop diplomacy program in Bosnia, and I spent Rosh Hashanah services in Sarajevo, where the services were held in a tri-lingual fashion, in Bosnian, Hebrew and Ladino.

There was another year that I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in Toulouse, France, where the congregation held a Rosh Hashanah meal together after the French-Hebrew service. The communal meal had the best kosher wine ever, and there was a stinky cheese course to the dinner. As we celebrated the holiday together, after singing “Henai Ma Tov,” everyone broke out in a chorus of “Aux Champs-Elysées.”

One year, I found myself in Taipei, Taiwan for the High Holidays. With no chance to find anything resembling mom’s brisket for my Erev Rosh Hashanah meal, I opted for the closest similar dish: Taiwanese beef-noodle soup. The next morning, as I took the metro down to the Shandao Temple station for Rosh Hashanah services that took place at the Sheraton Hotel, I looked down the long metro car and thought to myself: nobody on the entire train knows that it is Rosh Hashanah.

We believe this to be the day of inscription into the Book of Life, but what if no one knows it. If a tree falls in the forest…. I wondered what it mattered if such days pass by humanity unnoticed like dust. But I entered the Sheraton Hotel room-turned-shul, and I was the tenth person to create the ceremonial minyan. My answer was that it matters if only ten are aware.

The thing I take away from my experiences getting to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in so many varied places is that the festivities of the Jewish New Year is one of underlying threads that ties the Jewish community together, the whole world over. Some of the customs are familiar, some are foreign but all the elements help shape the richness of the Jewish experience that connects us together. JN

Paul Rockower is executive director of Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix. This article first appeared on jewphx.com.