Less is more
You may be familiar with this dictum. That’s how Mies van der Rohe explained his conception of modern architecture, and the expression has come to mean more than just how buildings are suposed to look today. There is, however, an alternative and opposing suggestion, something to the effect that More is not enough. Among the practitioners of this disturbing premise are the Hakafot Sheni crowd. These are the folks who, after the Simchat Torah part of Shemini Adzeret is over in the synagogues of their choice, gather that evening in places like our local schoolyard to continued cavorting with Torah scrolls, making merry well into the night. (If only Torah scrolls could talk, they might be crying out in agony, You’re supposed to be reading from me, not shlepping me around the block. All you’re doing is making me dizzy.) The sensible people I know here in The Land are of a different opinion: ENOUGH ALREADY, all the while being grateful that we are NOT back in The Exile, where we would have been looking ahead, with dread and apprehension, to still another day of the holiday.
Instead, as the hours remaining on the last day trickled down to a precious few, I began contemplating our return to our humdrum routine. Our laundry baskets were overflowing and needed to be dealt with, medical appointments needed to be made or kept, and various persons needed to be enlisted for tasks we wouldn’t or couldn’t do ourselves; to wit, Brian, who will take down our sukkah, and Yaron, who will inspect our oven, which did a swoon last Fri. morning.
Not with a bang, but a whimper
All the while, I have been considering why the entire Sukkot experience seems to end, not with a bang but a whimper. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Yeah, the Torah references the First Day of the Seventh Month, when we’re supposed to blow the shofar, and the Eighth Day, when we’re supposed to afflict ourselves, but the main attractions seem to be the three Pilgrimage Festivals. And pride of place seems to be Sukkot, otherwise known as The Hag, the Time of Our Joy. That’s when, in the days of our ancestors, all the crops had been harvested and folks had time to relax, all the while giving thanks to our Creator for a bountiful crop, and, BTW, can You please send us some rain, otherwise…
Somehow the emphasis has shifted, and the First Day in Tishrei (times two) and the Eighth Day have become THE DAYS, meaning one has the option of spending quantity time in shul, and the seven or eight days of Sukkot, a week later, seem, in the minds of many, to be somewhat of an anti-climax – even here in The Land, where people are officially off from work at the beginning and the end, and the weather is usually propitious. Few of us have harvested anything of note, and, thanks to Mekorot, the national water carrier, we are no longer deathly afraid of a drought – thank God. Plus, the main activity, arriving by foot with your sacrifice to the area where the Temple used to stand, is no longer an option – although, traffic being what it is, you might get there faster by hoofing it. Anyway, the event’s raison d’être seems to have faded away, like morning dew.
Still, we would do our best to be as joyful as possible, given the constraints of modern life. When we first arrived in The Land, we were able to sign up for tiyulim that would take us to places we would otherwise be unable to visit, thus allowing us to ‘walk the land,’ at least in spirit. These days? Nada. We were on our own to sit in our sukkah with friends or sit in their sukkah, but mostly these are the same wonderful friends we would see the rest of the year. Our biggest disappointment was not being able to hook up with Barbara and Richard Levine. A Levine-less chol hamoed, what fun is that?
Evolution and the Jewish home
The most exciting thing that happened to me, although not in a good way, occurred in The Shuk. (Where else?) But before I went there, I needed to enjoy my get-me-up-and-running iced latte with oak milk at Power Coffeeworks, where I was privy to the following conversation.
The woman next to me at the counter was talking on the phone. She soon became very agitated, slamming her fist on the counter, repeating, JUST SAY NO; JUST SAY NO. It turns out she was talking to hubby, who was home with the kids. The older ones wanted to join their friends at the local mall, but hubby felt that the girls were spending too much time just hanging out. Of course, he hadn’t told them not to go, which infuriated wifey. If he doesn’t want them to go, tell them not to. To her it was as simple as that. I told her I sympathized, but that she could not possibly win, as she was trying to buck thousands of years of human evolution and the delegation of responsibility in the Jewish home. It’s the mother’s role to be the meanie, and the father’s job to be the wimp. That’s just the way it is. What I didn’t say was the second part, which is the hormonal change that comes over a mother when she becomes a grandma. This I know from first-hand experience. The same woman (someone I love), who would refuse her own daughter a cookie at the bakery, was now suggesting to her grandson that they have ice cream instead of lunch. I could have mentioned this second part, but that might have muddied the waters, which is the last thing you want to do in a coffee shop.
‘Pilgrims’ we don’t need
After a few stops along the way, I headed across the street to the shuk in search of green beans (the vegetables, not the raw coffee) which I procure from a stall on one of the small alleyways that connect the two main ‘streets.’ Suddenly, they were coming my way, a most unwelcome group of ‘pilgrims.’ When I had alighted from the light rail to start my shuk adventure, I had espied a band of Likudniks assembled at the entrance to the shuk on Rehov Yaffo, not surprising as our election is almost upon us. As I told Barbara, ‘I even spotted the guy who lives down the street from us.’ ‘How do you know it’s him?’ she asked. ‘Because I saw his car parked there.’
I’ve always wondered about this strange dude, and what he’s trying to accomplish by covering every inch of his vehicle with Likud banners, posters, and bumper stickers. Does he think I’ll be impressed, that he’s giving me reasons to vote for his candidate? Maybe he’s demonstrating to one and all that he is a Big Shot, that he’s angling for the 65th slot on the party list for the next election? As long as he doesn’t bother me, I won’t bother him. He is entitled to his views on the body politic, just as I am. But now they’re coming at me, dozens of them yelling ‘Rak (only) Bibi.’
I have a BIG problem with this approach. With the obvious exception of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the political class here, there, and around the world can be divided into three distinct groups, 1) those that can be replaced, 2) those who should be replaced, and 3) those who MUST be replaced. (Depending on your political persuasion, you are free to decide in which of these categories your least favorites belong.) To assume that your candidate is the ONLY ONE who can save the world indicates a staggering lack of imagination that might be contagious. It’s at least dangerous come election time.
The shuk is always congested mid-day Thursday, but now it was the Thursday before Shemini Adzeret and the shuk was wall to wall people shopping for Shabbat and the hag. Not a good time for anybody to bring their shock troops marching through. I understand it’s a time-honored tradition for Likud and other similar parties to stage election rallies between the fish mongers and the strawberry hawkers in Machane Yehuda. After all, that’s their home base, their loyal constituency. Just not on my dime. I’m there for green beans and herring, and don’t get in my way – whatever your point of view.
Which they did; get in my way, that is. When they were a foot away from me, the whole bunch of them, yelling ‘Rak Bibi’ in my ear, I lost it. (No I did not misplace my cold brew coffee or anything else I had purchased; for example, leaving a shopping bag on the bus.) I simply exercised my God-given prerogative as a duly certified Curmudgeon Emeritus to give them what-for as elegantly (or not) as I choose. X@&^#$!>>> YOU; X@&^#$!>>> YOU. (Warning: do not attempt this ploy unless you are duly accredited. Otherwise, bad things might happen.) My attempt at a protest didn’t change the world; it won’t change the election results; it didn’t even stop this horde from continuing to galumph through the shuk. Still, it felt good; it really did. And that’s worth something. I don’t have a car covered with election propaganda to put on display. (We don’t even have a car.) But my lungs are unimpaired, and I’m prepared to use them when provoked.
My sense of serenity restored, my dignity intact, I left the shuk, boarded the light rail and then the bus, and returned to our sukkah, where harmony and good fellowship are on display – regardless of your political affiliation – and where we were sheltered – for at least eight days – from the follies and indignities of the world.