Rosh Hashanah, Israeli-style

It’s Sunday night, Erev Rosh Hashanah, and Hebrew chatter fills the air of a Masonic center on Westwood Boulevard. 

Approximately a dozen round tables covered in white cloths fill the large room. 

To the side of the space, platters of chicken, fish, salads, potatoes and rice steam on a long rectangular table. 

Israeli men and women of all ages sit together at the round tables, feasting on the entrees, a mix of Israeli, Yemenite, Libyan and Iraqi cuisine. They drink wine and sparkling apple cider. A volunteer walks around the tables, refilling the glasses.

This festive celebration for the local Israeli-American community drew approximately 60 at $10 a head, potluck. The Israeli Leadership Council (ILC) sponsored the event.

Not the typical Rosh Hashanah service, but, characteristic of the kind of gathering one might find in Israel among secular Jews, there was no sermonizing or Torah reading, or even a dress code. Following a brief presentation on the symbolism of traditional holiday foods by Rabbi Avi Stewart of Westwood Kehilla, everyone made their way over to the buffet area to load their plates and, after dinner, they all participated in a sing-along and Israeli folk dancing. 

It was exactly the kind of nonreligious and community-oriented Rosh Hashanah event that its co-organizer, Dikla Soffer, intended it to be.

“My kids, like I do, don’t want to go to any temple, but they’re raised in a home where we do traditional things. …We want to celebrate in our own way,” said Soffer, an ILC volunteer and former leader of the Israeli Scouts in Los Angeles.

Working toward building an engaged Israeli-American community, the nonprofit ILC holds community events throughout the year.

The Erev Rosh Hashanah celebration was the first of several events that Soffer and Noam Aviv, a 20-something Israeli emissary working with the ILC and Israeli Scouts for the next several weeks, are planning to hold for the community. Upcoming events include a Kabbalat Shabbat celebration and a Sukkot camping trip.  

Guy Husani, a Northridge resident and retired emergency medical technician who attended the Erev Rosh Hashanah event with his wife and three young children, said many Los Angeles-area Israelis are less interested in participating in a formal, lengthy and religious service and prefer, instead, to spend the holiday at a casual get-together.

“I want to come in and say hello, shake some hands, do a couple of prayers for the holidays, eat some dinner and go home,” Husani said.