Archive for holidays

Jews in the Woods

We’re currently in the big “yaaaaar jewish holiday seasonnnn” that comes around every Fall. Cause Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar, the dates fluctuate from year to year. During my first year in Korea, Yom Kippur was on a day when we only had a half day of school and midterms, so I wasn’t even teaching and it was easy to ask for the day off. This year, Rosh Hashana fell smack in the middle of the week. My school (in its infinite kindness) allowed me to take two vacation days to celebrate the holiday in style.

There are essentially 2 synagogues in Seoul (Chabad and the US Army chaplaincy). Ya know the saying, 2 Jews, 3 opinions? Yeah. There’s a lot of that. For the high holidays they merged together to form an uber-metch-synagogue out in the woods. WHAT? Jews in the woods?! Apparently the military has a religious retreat center in this uberforesty part of HanNam-dong with a nice chapel and bunk-bed-filled-communal-bathroom-sporting dorms. Everyone who wanted to got to stay there for free, eat for free and get eaten alive by mosquitoes for the low low cost of nothing! With the weather being an ongoing stream of monsoontyphoon I chose communal bathrooms over my normal hour long commute to temple.

The community brought in two young guys (both with connections to my hometown, which made for some Jewish geography) to help lead services and read torah. I’m gunna say with honesty that normally I don’t do so well on the high holidays. It’s hard to feel kavana (spirit//feeling) when you’re looking at a four hour service+sermons; it can feel more like an obligation to be there than anything else. Go to high holiday services, get ya JewCard(tm) renewed for a new year. This was the first year that I felt the words resonate with me and was able to appreciated the whole experience. When we blew the shofar, the symbolic trembling of our souls, I felt this deep connection to Jews across Asia, all of us celebrating the new year together. The guys also did a great job of leading, especially the Friday night services. There were about 100 people there on the first days, and it tricked down to the twenties as the holiday weathered on.

Being a Jew in Seoul is different from being a Jew in Ann Arbor. Where in the the states ya can say “I’m a Jew” and people have some kinda idea about what your taking about, a lot of Koreans aren’t really sure. I get a lotta –

Are all Jews Israeli? (no) What, there are Jews today? (yes) Do all Jews look white like you? (no)

– which I don’t mind at all. Its kinda sad though that Jewish life in Korea is really all about services and not volunteering or eating or social stuff. I’m sure that there’s more Jews here who’d want to connect, but maybe just not in a go-to-temple kinda way. There’s just not that much in way of options in Korea.

One thing that my thoughts kept drifting to as I was praying was the oft repeated Jewish mantra, ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ I have really complicated feelings about Israel in general, but I’m hoping that that’s where I’ll be next year, studying at Pardes. Maybe, maybe not. It’s what my mosquitoe bitten legs and way too Jewish heart want 😉

Happy New Year everyone! May we all be inscribed for a sweet year!


Jews of Korea (?! really)

@ Yongsan Army Base

With shabboes starting later and later, Chaplain Shulman finally got around to taking a group picture of the Friday night crew. This is pretty much the Jewish community of Korea that I know – English teachers, Korean natives, US army, reform to orthodox. People come for an hour or two outside of Seoul to get together at the US YongSang Army Base for services and dinner. It’s not Ann Arbor, but it’s not bad.

8 or so of my friends are in the picture, including Linda (to my right), who’s not jewish and was suckered by me into going. This week was Sheva Brachot for Neil and Tobi, who just got married, and a huge going away party for everyone leaving Seoul in the next month. I thought there would be some serious partying, and dragged her along…. well, at least I think she enjoyed the food.

🙂 Anyway, it’s a good time – I’m happy to be part of it.
Be sure to click for larger picture!

So I went to Japan…. and all I brought back where these three videos. And a ton of photos! ^^

Celebrating chuSukkot

This weekend was both Chuseok (the Korean Thanksgiving) and Sukkot (one of the major Jewish Harvest Festivals). I was super lucky to be invited to celebrate Chuseok with two families: Anna and YoonJi’s. I feel like part of their families 🙂

Anna’s family had a nighttime BBQ where half of the guests were Israeli, so I got to practice my Hebrew and eat yummy salads. The BBQ was held at her aunts house in the heart of Seoul, AND she had two dogs! Life is good.

Next, I went over to YoonJi’s for a more traditional Chuseok. Her family laid out a lot of food for the ancestors to symbolically eat, to thank them for everything they did while alive, and then the family gets to eat all of the food! Great great great! We also went to the Korean Folk Museum in InsaDong and got to see one of the old palaces – check out the eloquent video:

Now, at the same time of course, it’s been Sukkot 😉

Sukkot too!


Check out the hot Chabad Sukkah! (A sukkah is a portable hut, for the unfamiliar. Jews build them just for the holiday, to remind us of how our ancestors lived in huts as they moved through the desert. It’ll come down after the holiday!) It’s kind of cool that there’s a Jewish community in Seoul. They even go bowling: (SIDENOTE: omg my transitions today are so bad! hahah! I’ll blame the bad writing on it being late)

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Everyone knows I’m a terrible bowler -Bowler? Is that the right word? Korea will never be the same after my granny-shot!

SO between Chuseok and Sukkot, I’m holidayed out. This weekend will end the Jewish Holiday Season with Simchat Torah (AKA jewish drinking holiday) and then it’s a looooong wait to Hannukah – which is a good thing! It’s been a good time though, mixing between Jewish and Korean customs – and language.

Some people have asked “Naomi, how’s that Korean coming along?” Yeahhhh…. In the Part #2 to the Urim market, you can see me bust out some mad skillz as I buy things at the market. Watch out! o_o