Eliminate the Frippery

Our regularly scheduled Wed. evening gemara shiur got put on hold a few weeks ago because Nachum was in quasi-bidud (‘bidud’ is what they call isolation here in The Land). He had visited someone in the hospital who may or may not have had COVID-19, but who definitely did wind up dying of something. Nachum was awaiting his own test results when he called me. Maybe we could reschedule for the next night? Turns out we couldn’t because, while his first test was negative, they wanted him to take a second test, which also turned out negative. And that prompted me to send him a link to a recording on You Tube of the Johnny Mercer- Harold Arlen standard, Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the negative). Because my mind works in strange and wondrous ways, I thought that maybe we all should be focused on eliminating the unnecessary over the Hagim. Or better still, Accentuate the has-to-be, eliminate the frippery.

If a pollster were to stand outside a typical suburban synagogue anywhere in The States om a Rosh Hashana morning and ask a random sampling of the congregants about how many shofar blasts are you supposed to hear, I’ll bet you get a lot of people, answering, ‘100.’ Why? Because that’s what they do in their shul; every year, 100 blasts. They may spread them out differently depending if it’s Nusach Ashkenaz or Nusach Sefard, but it’s always 100 – never fail. And then you find out that you really only need to hear 30, and not one blast more. There are explanations of why the extra 70, but that needn’t concern us, nor all the production that surrounds each set of blasts. The bottom line is that on the second day of Rosh Hashana, Barbara and I took a walk around the corner and stood in a parking lot, while a friend of ours, ably assisted by his wife, blew the requisite 30 blasts, while standing on his patio above us. Done; we’re good! (Eliminate the frippery.)

There was no beating around the bush about Yom Kippur. The word was out, the only thing you have to do is complete the fast, whether you’re outdoors or indoors, with a minyan or by yourself. Yes, there’s something to be said for repeating and repeating and repeating the al chets as part of the day-long davening, but there’s not much to be said for having to do it in an outdoor minyan wearing a mask when it’s Tisha B’av weather and your municipality has been declared a red zone. As Natania would say, you have one job. And that we did in the air-conditioned comfort of our living room.

Sukkot. What to do? Sit in a sukkah. That’s easy enough – assuming you have access to one, which might be more problematic for some people this year. And wave your lulav and etrog around, also easy – assuming you have access to a set.

No problem for us. Just trot over to where I go every year, the apartment of one of the veteran shul members, and pick out my species. From years of being on the lulav screening committee at Beth Aaron in Teaneck, I’m mighty particular about what I’m choosing; so I spend at least two minutes making my selection. (I could spend more time, but life’s too short. Besides, this year we’re fitted into ten-minute slots, so there are only two customers at a time in his yard.)

The first year we were here in The Land, we bought ourselves a new sukkah: PVC pipes, cloth covering, and a bamboo mat – the whole nine yards. It was a lot easier to assemble it the years when Natania was living with us. The two ladies would go to it, and I would stand on the sidelines, thinking deep thoughts about the state of the world. Once our daughter was out of the house, I needed to pitch in and lend as much of a hand as I could. I seem to remember writing about the project once before, when we had a little white bird perched on the railing of our balcony as we handed the PVC and wooden pieces from upstairs to downstairs.

This year, Barbara and I had the same conversation that, I gather, was going on in households the length and breadth of Maale Adumim. We’re going to be all alone this year; no kids (or grandkids), no guests. Let’s just keep it simple. I convinced Barbara to forget about the PVC pipes and the cloth; just use our merpeset; hang the wooden pieces and the bamboo mat over the metal frame. Perfectly kosher; easy. Barbara wasn’t 100% convinced, but she agreed, and that’s what we did, putting everything in place before Yom Kippur.

Thanks to our friend Michael, we had developed a foolproof way to keep the schach, the bamboo mat, from blowing away, which it could easily do, the wind being mighty powerful in our neck of the woods. This year, Barbara thought we could try a simpler solution. Now it was my turn not to be 100% convinced.

At least ninety percent of the time, when Barbara says do it this way, and I say do it that way, we do it Barbara’s way and she is proven correct. Not this time. That is to say, we did it her way and she was wrong as she could be. (No gloating allowed!)

Everything seemed hunky-dory, at least for a few days. Then on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, when I was, to be honest, just trying to get through the day in one piece, the wind kicked up. I could hear the bamboo mat – which wasn’t in such great shape to begin with, having survived a dozen years of use – flapping in the breeze. I didn’t like what I was seeing, but there wasn’t much we could do about it until nightfall. By late in the afternoon, the mat had become completely unhinged (like certain political figures who shall remain nameless). Could we somehow do a salvage job so it would last through the holiday, before letting it go to its final resting place? In three words: not a chance. It was too far gone. (A moment of silence, if you please…)

The benefit of not living in Pocatello, Idaho (please refer to the previous post) is that if you need more schach, you can get it at the nearest shopping mall. The next day, Tuesday, found us at the sukkah selling concession in front of Ace Hardware, where they were doing a land-office business.

We ordered our bamboo mat, even paying to have it delivered. With difficulty and a little bit of help from a friend, we were able to lift the mat to where it needed to be placed. This exertion reinforced a decision I had made earlier: from now on, we’re hiring Brian (our handyman) to do the work. What had happened? Putting up the schach the first time, I fell off the ladder, that’s what. Don’t be alarmed, nothing terrible happened. The tall stepladder started to tilt, so I half fell and half jumped off it, bracing myself on the edge of the table that is on the merpeset all year round.

Our sukkah

I met up with Brian and a buddy of his a few days later at their ‘club house,’ outside the Russian makolet near where we live. I explained the situation to them and added what had occurred to me at the time: What the blankety-blank-blank am I doing up there? All I need is one good fall and I’ll be like some other people in my age bracket, creeping along, hunched over. So sad. I figured it out: it’s cheaper to hire Brian for an hour or so than to rent a walker from Yad Sarah forever.

One difference between our town and Pocatello, Idaho is the percentage of families who have a sukkah somewhere. (0% vs. maybe 25%) Even if they don’t have a proper balcony, people take a spot in a driveway, a walkway, or a yard. There are folks, they must be new, in building #1, who have commandeered the green area between our two buildings. During the summer they filled a little pool for their kids, and now they were putting up a sukkah. But when I took out the garbage at about 3:30 right before the holiday was to start, this is what I saw.

Something not quite right.

That can’t be right! (For one thing, you attach the cloth panels to the frame before you complete construction. And where will the door be?) I had suggested that we eliminate the frippery, but aren’t they overdoing it, just a little? In my mind, working in its strange and wondrous ways, this half-built sukkah struck me as a metaphor for the way our government is responding to the COVID crisis: too little, too late, everything in the wrong order. But, to my amazement, by the time the holiday started some three hours later, the family had gotten its act together, finished the sukkah, and were enjoying it that night and on the days that followed. Maybe we should turn over the running of the government to these enterprising folks. All in favor, say ‘aye.’

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