When does it start, and when does it end? That’s the kind of question that makes sense to ask on many different situations, occasions, and opportunities. What I have in mind at this moment is fairly specific, to wit, the timing of the holiday seasons here in The Land. (I specify in The Land, because here all of us at least share the same calendar, and when someone says acharei hahagim, we all agree on which hagim are being discussed, even if we don’t all observe them in the same way.) The fall season begins with Rosh Hashana and lasts through Shemini Adzeret. Easy. Some more mystical types might go back to the day after Tisha B’Av or the first day of Elul for Opening Day, but we’ll let that pass.
Because we planned our relocation to the Holy Land two years in advance, we had all the time in the world to get our financial matters straightened out before we left our Old New Jersey Home. Meaning, we got ourselves Capitol One Credit Cards, perfectly usable while living out of the U.S.A. Meaning, we were sitting in an oak-paneled room considering some additional life insurance, also something we needed to purchase then and there. Our friend Sal can explain what kind of policy this is; he’s tried with me, and it’s in one ear and out well, you know. What we were told (see below) is that at the age of eighty, I would stop paying premiums. And at the age of 100, they would give me the face value of the policy, should I still be alive. I want you to STOP now and take a minute to figure out my response when I was told this bit of information. That’s right: I asked where I would have to go to collect my money. (Wouldn’t you?)
Back then when I was still a spring chicken, the number eighty was an abstract number, having nothing to do with an actual age attainable if I just kept remembering to wake up every morning (that’s the trick!) – which activity I have performed flawlessly to date. And then, one day at a time, I was inching closer and closer to that milestone.
A few months ago, I decided that I might do well to rehearse for the big day. I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty. OK, I think I’ve got it down pat; just in time, because on March 15, I was one day away.
A few days before then, Barbara and I went to Natania and Gil’s apartment for a little party, celebrating my birthday and Liel’s. She would turn seven the next day, and even with COVID restrictions, there would be a party for her with a few of her nearest and dearest – outdoors, weather permitting. May I just add something you probably know already: turning seven is a bigger deal in the mind of the beholder than turning eighty.
And yes, my big day came, and what was I going to do to celebrate? I woke up on March 16 (I did it again!), and sure enough, it’s as if the calendar had flipped overnight, and I had reached the milestone. Actually, I didn’t wake up on my own, I was woken up by the insistent, not so dulcet tones of my alarm clock, reminding me that I had been again roped into showing up at the 7:45 minyan. That being over and breakfast having been partaken of, I was ready for my next activity, which was…. what else? making a pot of my justly acclaimed kitchen sink soup, the last one before Pesach. (Doesn’t everyone make a pot of soup on one’s birthday?) That started, a phone call to Artzenu to order another carton of free-range chicken pieces completed, my spaces sufficiently straightened up to allow the young lady who would be coming to clean our apartment to function, it was time to join Barbara on our next exciting project, joining the throngs heading to the supermarket for Pesach shopping – or at least, the pre-mad dash version, to be followed the following week by the actual mad dash version, to be followed several days later by the absolute-last-minute-down-to-the-wire version. Maybe, just maybe, if both Barbara and I make it to the centennial mark, we’ll get our holiday shopping under control. Fifteen cans of tuna fish; is that enough? We have six kinds of jelly in our cart; should we put some of it back? So-and-so is coming over for a meal; last year he insisted that mushrooms are kitniyot. Should we get some anyway? Every year we make an effort to spend less on frivolous items over Pesach, and every year we wind up spending more. At least this year, we received a cash infusion from the nice Americans to defray the cost.
We completed our shopping, returning home with our shopping cart filled to the brim, plus two of the large blue Ikea bags stuffed full of goodies. You’d think we’d have enough sense to take a cab back or even wait for the bus; but no, we shlepped it all up the hill – which has gotten longer every year we’ve been here. Reheat the soup for lunch, take my daily nap, and it was time to call my brother. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but every year his birthday comes out on the same day as mine. So, Happy Birthday, Frank.
I had to be careful; I didn’t want it to seem as if I was rubbing it in. He was staring out the window in rustic Massachusetts at the foot or so of snow still remaining. Should I have mentioned that on this momentous day it was shirt-sleeve weather where we were? Why not? Let him man up! While I was at it, why not mention the provision over here that if you’re eighty, you can walk up to the front of any line, anywhere, anytime, to get served? Now there’s no way I’m going to do that; nor would my brother. But I look around at some of these poor souls with their canes, their walkers, their wheelchairs and their aides. The thing is, as I remarked to Frank, lots of these folks grew up with barely a morsel to eat and/or running and hiding from some very nasty people (some with guns) – while we were called away our game of hide-and-seek or ringalevio by the dinner bell. No wonder we are both more physically fit – even with Frank’s serious health issues – than a lot of our contemporaries. For us, eighty is the new seventy, maybe even the new sixty, and it’s something to consider and be grateful for, and I hope I’m up to remembering that part as well.
As part of my on-going efforts at tikkun olam, and to celebrate his birthday from afar, I sent my brother a Baratza Encore coffee grinder from Kitchen Outfitters, a small store in Acton, MA. (No, I do not use Amazon.) To up the ante a little, I sent him links to articles about the best specialty coffee roasters in Massachusetts and NYC. It goes without saying that he loves his Baratza, a significant step up from the little blade grinder he was using. As far as where to get his beans, he reminded me (as if I didn’t know) that when they are in The City, he’s walking distance to Zabars and Fairways, so he doesn’t need any other vendors.
Well, yes and no. A question I’ve seen maybe a dozen times on Jerusalem oriented Facebook groups is some variation of Where can I get the best coffee in Jerusalem? I always feel compelled to add my own two cents. There are many cafés and a number of smaller places where you can purchase perfectly respectable coffee, but if you want the best coffee bar none,…. (my long-time readers know the answer). The point being, as I rhapsodized to my fraternal twin, is that, with a little effort and no extra expense, anyone (anyone!) can acquire N.Y.C.’s version of the b.c.b.n. So why not go for it? Why not deal with small business types who love what they’re doing, who are concerned about ethical sourcing of the beans, who are connected to the actual growers of the beans in far-away places? Plus, you may get to meet the most interesting people sitting at the counter of a real coffee hangout in NYC, the way I do at Power Coffeeworks. So there’s that.
I had to cut short the conversation. We were to meet two friends and head down to what I refer to as The Puddle, to Caffit, the same venue where we had the party for Natania and Gil the day after they were married. These friends, because of on-going health concerns, had missed that affair. In fact, they had not been to any restaurant for over a year. So they were really excited by the offer. Should we get dressed up; should we wear our Shabbat clothes? Not really necessary, not on my account.
The meal was fine; we chatted amiably. And then the conversation got a little iffy. They mentioned another couple we know who had just returned from an involuntary COVID-related stay in The States. According to these recent returnees, You can’t imagine what it’s like there these days. You can’t say anything. (anything????) And then, You have to be really careful what you say.
Isn’t that a good thing, I replied, being careful what we say? There’s this whole cottage industry in Judaism about not speaking lashon hara, hurtful speech. (The other cottage industry being the one against sinat hinam, unwarranted hatred of one’s fellow, both of which are often honored in the breach by the religious establishment here in The Land.) Shouldn’t we all put brain in gear before engaging mouth, as the sign says? Does it require so much imagination to understand what upsets the other guy/gal – especially when we insist that they give us the same courtesy? Well, I had them there. We may all violate the injunction against lashon hara, but no one I know is going to go on record in favor of such nasty language. (And yes, I know that political correctness can be taken too far, but that’s another story for another time.)
And so, all was well in Birthday Land. I am now counting down to eighty-one, one day at a time, remembering punctiliously to wake up each morning, with a smile on my face and a Thank You to our Creator, doing my best to having a great day.
Just so you don’t think everything is hunky-dory: Barbara called up the nice folks at Brighthouse Life Insurance, who had taken over the policy from MetLife, the original insurers. What about stopping our premiums now that Fred has turned 80? Oh no, said the young lady on the phone, that’s not what the policy says. (Or as they say in this part of the world, Ein devar k’ze (there’s no such thing); you have to keep paying every month. Hmm, we’re going to have to look at our policy again and maybe bring in the big guns. But that will have to wait until after Pesach. That’s part of the joy of the Chagim here in The Land; you have a built-in excuse to put off doing stuff – until. Several weeks later and guess what? For better or worse, ‘until’ has arrived. Which might be in a lead-in to another article, one which will arrive sooner or later if you are patient and keep a smile on your face.