You take a left and then a right…
You have to know your way around these parts. You take a left; you go a spell; then you make a right; when you get to the stop sign, turn left again…. All of it on winding roads with no street signs anywhere. I guess you could use Waze, but Frank and Abby don’t; they seem to know where they ‘re going. Anyway, with Abby at the helm, we made the forty-five-minute journey to Tanglewood.
In New York, on a typical evening in season, thousands of people make their way to the various venues at Lincoln Center. They arrive by subway, by bus, even by taxi, with only a few out-of-towners parking their cars in the relatively small underground facility. Not so in Lenox MA. Everyone is coming by car, meaning you need a small army of local police and volunteers to direct the traffic. The first huge parking area we came to already capacitied-out. We were sent a mile or so off to another huge area. We might still be looking for a place to park, but our collective age seems to have earned us some special treatment. With a wave of the hand, one of the traffic directors motioned us to an area where we could park, near the entrance to the performance. There has to be some benefit to being old; the rest of it, feh!
We should have arrived a little earlier; then we would have had the luxury of a picnic on the grass, as a lot of other folks were doing. We quickly ate our sandwiches on a bench and made our way inside the grounds. There, true to form, were hundreds (maybe more) of people enjoying the early evening ambience, eating, drinking (I’m sure there was a fair amount of wine being quaffed), milling around, and chatting. We, however, made straight for the Serge Koussevitsky Music Shed. (If the name of this legendary conductor does not ring a bell, or if you want more information about ‘The Shed,’ and Tanglewood in general, click on the link here.)
Barbara and Abby were ahead of me, looking for our seats. I, however, stopped dead in my tracks. What was going on? There in one corner was a bunch of guys huddled together with a collective posture that seemed familiar. If I didn’t know better, I thought, I would have guessed that they were catching the last rays of the sun to daven mincha. Naaah, can’t be. A mincha minyan in the middle of the Berkshires? But I was wrong, it could be – in fact, it was. They were just about done when I approached the group. I heard someone say that they would daven maariv during the intermission. OK by me; I’ll even join them.
I hastened to reconnect my wife and sister-in-law, who were wondering what happened to me, where I had gone off to. We took our seats, put our stuff down, had time to look around as the orchestra members began filing in, and then the concert began. It was first rate, assuming you like the kind of music being offered. Otherwise… (The only ‘heavy metal’ available was in the roof of the building). The program opened with Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, followed by Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss. I had a few issues with the tempos of the first piece, but otherwise the performances were first-rate, which is what I understand happens at this summer festival. Then it was time for the intermission. For most of the audience, that meant fifteen minutes of ‘free time’ with nothing much to do. (In certain venues, there might be just enough of an opportunity to get some wine or a cocktail at the bar.) But for a dozen or so of us, it was time for maariv.
The question might be asked, who are these guys? How does anybody know, why would anybody think, that there would be a minyan near the entrance to The Shed right before the concert? Is this information common knowledge among the Orthodox Jews vacationing in the Berkshires; guys just know to show up? I don’t do investigative reporting, so I never thought to buttonhole any of the minyaneers and ask. Oh well, one more question without an answer.
Time for the second half of the program: Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and more Richard Strauss. As we were leaving, I again got separated from the ladies, so were among the last out of the parking area. Even so, there were traffic jams on our way home; too many cars leaving all at once, sort of like a vehicular flash flood. I have to give Abby all the credit in the world. Finding her way to Tanglewood was hard enough, but now we were driving back on these poorly lit, unmarked, winding roads, until we arrived, as we should have, back at Journey’s End.
In the meanwhile, Frank had located his ‘Ent’ and had an appointment for early Tues. afternoon. Hence, we would have to be on the road about 10AM, a little earlier than we had anticipated. As long as we got back to The City sometime, anytime Tues, that was OK by me. After a fair amount of driving, were back on E. 86 St, at Joan’s apartment, where Barbara would spend the next few days, and I would spend the night. The next morning, I would be on my own, heading to Newark Airport for my return flight home. (At least, English is spoken thereabouts, so I can’t get too lost.)
Thanks to Barbara, I had everything I needed to get on a plane – the right plane, of course – at Newark Airport. First step, schlep your stuff onto the subway platform and head to Port Authority. Second step, get on the shuttle bus that starts on the street between the two buildings of the bus terminal, using the pre-printed ticket in the stack of papers in my backpack. Get off the bus at the right terminal and proceed as planned. Well, almost as planned. I had all the paperwork I needed at hand, but where do I go? I didn’t know, but I figured the airport staff would. Not so simple, although with a lot of being sent hither and yon, I did stumble on one employee who decided it would be a good idea to take care of me. At which point, I was free to proceed through Security and join the throngs waiting for their flight to wherever they were going. As you would expect, the gate for the flight to Israel was a-l-l-t-h-e-w-a-y-a-t-t-h-e-n-d-o-f-t-h-e-t-e-r-m-i-n-a-l. I found my way there, and, taking pity on the young woman staffing the concession stand in this isolated area with no traffic to speak of, I bought a bottle of juice, sat down, knowing I would have several hour of biding my time.
Slowly but surely, passengers for my flight began trickling in, and then, all of a sudden, Airport Security showed up. After sitting on my duff in the same seat for over an hour, I, and everyone else, were told to ‘clear the area.’ Who knows what Security was looking for; maybe they were just following protocol. They cordoned off the area, and we were finally let back in and subject to another security check – more protocol, I guess. By this time, there were lots of people milling around. What do you do if it’s the middle of the afternoon and it’ll be a while before you can board the plane? When in doubt, daven mincha – even though no concert would follow. Which is what occurred – although not the way you’d want it to happen. Perhaps I should explain. Start by finding a random Hasid, whose pronunciation of the Amida repetition might have been de rigueur 100 years ago in some small shtetl nestled in the Carpathian Mountains but is incomprehensible to many of us today. (Whatever is he saying?) Then throw in the announcements repeated every two minutes to report any suspicious object to the authorities. Between the mouth-full-of-marbles davener and the over-zealous official announcements drowning him out, I couldn’t make out one word of what was going on – none of which seemed to faze the large crowd of potential passengers who appeared out of nowhere to join the minyan.
Then I looked around, and there were even more people lining up to board the flight. No rush; they’re not going to leave without me.
Somehow, I had been assigned one of the best seats on the plane. Well, no, not quite, unless you desperately want to look out the window and don’t mind climbing over two strangers in case you need to make your way to the lavatory, in which case, it might well be a very fine seat. Speaking of which…. Someone must have decided it was time for maariv, because a bunch of men got up and huddled together in the middle of the plane. Sorry, guys, you’ll have to carry on without me. You’re not supposed to be standing in the aisles, preventing the flight attendants from going about their business. You’re also blocking access to the lavatories, not a good way to make friends and influence people. Not a good way to ensure your prayers will be answered any time soon.
There was certainly a mixed multitude on this United flight to Israel, among which was about thirty or more teenagers from a church group. One young lady was assigned the seat next to mine. I have to admire her attention span; she spent the entire flight staring down at her cell phone. Being the old-fashioned geezer that I am, I don’t even watch any of the several hundred movie options available. I read my book and I sleep. And when the opportunity presents itself, I eat. More accurately, I look suspiciously at the food tray, deciding if I want to struggle with the multiple wrappers preventing easy access to what’s inside. I don’t have to belabor the point; most of you know what airline food – especially kosher airline food – is like. At least on El Al, everyone gets to wallow in misery at the same time. On United, the kosher consumers got served first, and then, maybe fifteen minutes later, the rest of the passengers – the majority – got their meals. By which time, I’ve pried open the packaging and wrestled with my inner demons as to whether I’m hungry enough to swallow what’s on my tray.
Being somewhat less than a frequent flier, I was unaware of a recent advance in airplane technology. In my time, if you wanted to block out the light from outside, you’d pull down the shade on the window. Now the cabin crew does it for you. Someone hits a button, and your window gets dark – whether you want it to or not. Why do I mention this?
Hours and hours had passed. I had slept fitfully, the way I always do on an airplane. On the right side of the plane where I was seated, it was pitch black outside. I could just make out the outline of the wing. On the other side, the sun was shining. I was thoroughly confused. How could it be morning on one side of the plane and the middle of the night on the other? And if that were the case, in what direction was the plane flying? One by one, the aisle-blockers got up, took their davening equipment out of the overhead compartments, and regrouped next to the lavatories in the middle of the plane. Even assuming that I wanted to join the minyan, which I assuredly didn’t, it was ‘nighttime’ where I was seated. Maybe it was time to pray on the other side, but what about where I was? How’s that for a halachic conundrum! Then sometime later, a cockpit person hit the switch and, presto-chango, the sun ‘rose’ on my side of the plane, allowing me to ‘see the light’ in real time, as we approached the Israeli shoreline off in the distance.
And with that, as our plane circled the airport, preparing to land, my literary excursion came to an end. There’s more I could add about what we saw and what I felt, and, now that I’ve returned, there are many questions that could be posed about our long-delayed excursion to The States. which I might deal with subsequently – but not now. There are a bunch of Jewish holidays coming up, which require some preparation on my part – and perhaps on yours, as well. Let’s get on with life until there’s something new and dazzling to report about – at which point, you will hear from me – and that’s a promise.