***Long post warning! I just keep writing and writing this one. I guess I have a lot to say.***
Prior to coming to Abu Dhabi, I was concerned about how we would practice our Judaism. What that has meant to us since having children is establishing family traditions and interacting with the larger Jewish community. I didn’t think there would be a larger Jewish community here in Abu Dhabi, as I wasn’t able to find any information about one on the internet – there isn’t even a Chabad in the UAE – and there are Chabads everywhere, including the mountain peaks of India! I even doubted our ability to maintain the rituals in our home, because I read that we shouldn’t bring any Jewish paraphernalia, such as menorahs, seder plates, kiddush cups, challah covers, or anything with Hebrew on it. We didn’t even pack the kids’ PJ Library books. I figured we could craft all those things once we got here, but we haven’t really gotten around to anything YET.
And then Rosh Hashanah rolled around. Time has really been flying by since we arrived. I cannot believe it is October already! Once major reason why time doesn’t seem to pass here is that there is very little change in the seasons. There are no trees changing color, no chill in the air (though the morning and evening temps have dropped into a slightly more comfortable range), nobody wearing sweaters or rain boots, no pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks. But the calendar said it was Rosh Hashanah, so autumn it must be!
There is no synagogue to go to, so I decided just to throw a little dinner party to mark the occasion. I love cooking for Rosh Hashanah, because, if you’re not familiar with the holiday, everything is supposed to be sweet to symbolize hopes for a sweet new year. I invited two other families, both partially Jewish, though mainly non-practicing, and both with other young children. Only after planning the party did I start to see flyers on campus advertising a Shorashim (the school’s Jewish student union) Rosh Hashanah gathering. Oh well.
I decided to make salmon, couscous with lots of yummy mix-ins like pomegranate arils, pistachios, dried apricots, mint, and chick peas, and, of course, the very special round raisin challah that you are only allowed to have to Rosh Hashanah! I have only ever purchased challah, so this was going to be my first time baking any sort of bread. Kate offered to bring green beans and a sweet potato kugel and Betty was going to bring dessert.
I had a little bit of trouble finding all the ingredients I needed (including couscous – who knew that would be hard to find in the Middle East?!), but eventually I did. On Tuesday night after the kids went to bed (Rosh Hashanah started the following evening), I set to work baking my challah:
I decided to follow this recipe and these braiding instructions. I encountered a few hiccups along the way. The yeast didn’t foam up the way the recipe indicated it would. As such, I don’t think any of the risings worked as well as they should have. It was also the first time that we had used the oven in the temporary apartment, so we weren’t familiar with its quirks. The recipe said we could freeze the challah, which I did so that I could bake it fresh the next day, but I don’t think the freeze was the best idea. It was moot, however, because May was sick and so was Kate’s daughter. We decided to postpone the whole thing until Friday. I baked the challah anyway, so we did have it on Rosh Hashanah proper, but it also served as a test-run so that I could improve the recipe for my guests.
Not having the dinner party that Wednesday freed me up to go to an Art History lecture that I was interested in. That’s one of the perks of living on a college campus and it’s a deeply satisfying one. After that lecture ended, I decided to check out the Shorashim event. I was worried that it would be all undergrads and that I would stick out like an OLD thumb (I am fifteen years older than the freshmen!). But Jeff encouraged me to go and, even though I was nervous going alone (Jeff stayed home with the kids and did their bedtime, because the holiday started after the sun went down, of course), I went and I’m really glad I did.
The night was divided into three parts. The first was a reception with hors d’oeuvres in the Campus Center:
To my surprise, there were hardly any students at all and it was mostly professors and their families and even some off-campus folk. The food was fancy and plentiful. They had an ample selection of sweets, a couple different kinds of smoked fish, matzoh ball soup, and freshly baked challah with delicious, cold, creamy butter. Frankly, I was shocked. I didn’t expect this sort of spread in Abu Dhabi! They also had dates and baklava and that seemed more desert-appropriate.
I do not know this lady’s name, but she has no affiliation with NYUAD and has apparently been coming here for a while to participate in the Jewish holiday celebrations, because they’re the only ones in the city. I think that’s really great. This campus serves as a safe haven for those that might feel less-than-comfortable advertising their religion (or any other “otherness”). In this picture she is lighting the holiday candles. The room we were in overlooked the indoor swimming pool. For those of you who like to know what this campus is like, they are currently installing an outdoor pool and kiddie pool too.
This is Professor Mark. R. Cohen. He is emeritus at Princeton and is here for one semester to lecture on the interaction of Judaism and Islam. He’s even offering a Judeo-Arabic class right now. He also became an ordained rabbi during a break from his academic studies…you know, as you do. He led the religious segment of our evening. In the picture above, he is saying a prayer over the apples and honey.
After the reception, we went upstairs in the Campus Center to the multifaith room for services. Dr. Cohen led us in readings from the machzor and talked a little bit about how Judaism influenced – both positively and negatively – Muhammad in Medina.
A pretty good turn out, I’d say!
I also had to snap a photo of the wudu room, which is where Muslims cleanse themselves before prayer or touching the Qur’an (similar to a mikvah):
And no Rosh Hashanah service would be complete with the blowing of the shofar and, oh my goodness, I was so pleased to find out that we had one:
I forget that guy’s name, but he was a student (and, I believe, one of the leaders of Shorashim). We talked about what it was like to make the decision to come study here at NYUAD as a Jew and how his family took it. I was happy to hear that they were very supportive. Also in attendance was the old father of an astronomy professor. He himself had been a Physics professor at the U Chicago. He lived in Rogers Park, Chicago and they were clearly a very devout family. I love that he was here to spend the high holy days with his son and that he had also come for Passover in the spring. (He was actually “in the neighborhood,” because his other daughter was having a baby in Israel, so he and his wife flew out to spend time with her, but he made a side-trip over here to spend time with his son too.)
The third part of the evening’s festivities was the actual dinner (though I was still so stuffed from the hors d’oeuvres). I Facebooked about this already, but this was the part of the evening that really warmed my heart. The dinner was held in one of the two dining halls on campus. Each dining hall has a couple of different food stations: a grill, a pizza and pasta counter, grab & go prepared food, hot wok, vegetarian, and “Global Kitchen,” which serves a different regional cuisine each night. Wednesday night’s featured cuisine was “The Occasion of Rosh Hashanah”:
This means that any campus resident could try the Jewish food. Here’s half of what they had available:
I asked for a little bit of everything. The chef checked to make sure I actually did want the gefilte fish. He said he had no idea what it was, but that he had googled and and followed a recipe and that he hoped it had all turned out well. Indeed it did! I mean, it wasn’t 5-star dining, but it wasn’t bad at all. And I still find it hilarious that I was able to find gefilte fish in Abu Dhabi. That’s pretty awesome. Go Google! The food was all free for us (I think it’s always free for students, as are all books and class materials including – and I kid you not – “field trips” to other countries like India, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Ethiopia, etc) and we dined together at a long table, saying the blessings together and talking about what it’s like to be Jewish in the Middle East.
On Friday, the kiddos were feeling enough better to have that Rosh Hashanah dinner party that we had planned. Luckily, all of the food kept well and I didn’t have to buy anything twice. I did make more challah though, and I think it turned out much better the second time around:
Oh, I should also mention that it was just one day before this party that we received all our furniture from IKEA and were finally able to move into our permanent apartment. We don’t have much besides a couch and a dining table, but that worked out pretty well, as it gave the kids plenty of room to run around.
I’m not quite sure how this happened, but Jeff got stuck sitting at the kids’ end of the table! Good man, good man. Our dinner was super casual. We didn’t say any prayers, but all the food turned out well and we had a great time.
Baby Gillian slept in the Ergo for almost the entire evening. Poor girl was still a little under the weather. Helen, Kate & Matt’s eldest daughter, was super well behaved and very quiet, even though Adele and Libby (you were introduced to Libby’s family in a previous dinner party post) were running around and screaming their happy little heads off. Here’s a shot of all the beautiful girls:
Libby and Helen (and baby Gillian) often join May and me for the Tuesday Coffee Mornings. That’s how I know their mommies. We all get along great. These are some of those superb mom-friends I told you about. Of all the kids, Adele is the oldest and is totally the ringmaster. What she does, everyone else follows:
After much honey-fueled insanity – running, leaping, twirling, screaming contest on the balcony – it was time to say goodnight:
As I walked the ladies to the elevator, I said, “I feel sorry for whomever lives directly below me.” And then I realized that’s actually our good friend Rachel. I asked her and she said she couldn’t hear a thing. She also said her husband Andy had been playing guitar and asked if I heard that, which I didn’t. Thank goodness for thick walls and floors!
Fast forward to today, Saturday, October 4. Yom Kippur started last night and I utterly forgot about it until I saw people posting about it on Facebook this morning. Damn. See, I told you I have no idea what day or month or season it is here!
I will end this ridiculously long post with this: this week is a big Muslim holiday – Eid al-Adha – also just called Eid (pronounced “eed”). It commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Isma’il. I’m sure it is no coincidence that Eid falls so close to Rosh Hashanah in time, as the Jewish holiday is also linked to the Abraham-Isaac story. The holiday is celebrated here with prayers, obviously, and with food – traditionally focusing on sacrificed meat. The grocery store was a MADHOUSE yesterday, but we were able to grab some local delicacies, like citron-stuffed dates, Turkish delight, and baklava:
Adele doesn’t have school for the next couple of days and Jeff is off work for the whole week. We were considering taking a trip to Oman, but we didn’t have our passports back from our visa applications, so we are going to do that oh-so-trendy “staycation” idea. We’re going to try to do all the touristy things that we haven’t gotten a chance to do, as we’ve been bogged down with bureaucratic nonsense. I’m hoping to pet a camel, eat a camel, go to the beach and/or pool, see the Grand Mosque, go to a souk, and maybe go to one of those incredible Friday brunch buffets I’ve mentioned before.
L’Shanah Tovah, May you be sealed for a good year in the book of life, and Eid Mubarak!