Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Wandering Jew Builds a Hut

One of those "can you imagine..." moments that I have been known to use to describe Winnipeg to the average Israeli is the story of how the schach (roof) of our succah collapsed under the weight of the snow. 

We had a very pretty Succah in the 'Peg - sturdy, but homey. Actually, it is the type of Succah you will rarely see in Israel today. Its walls were made of solid wooden paneling, it had a door with a heavy lock, it was equipped with all mod cons, including lighting and central heating - well, a small blow heater that burned the legs of the person sitting immediately opposite it, and didn't really do much good to anybody else due to the facts that heat rises and that Succot have no real roof insulation!

I was familiar with this type of shack from my youth in England. As opposed to sitting in Manitoba in your thermal underwear, in close to zero temperatures, expecting to hear sleigh bells and faint echos of "I'm dreaming of a white....", in Blighty you would be doing the calculation of how long it would take for the men to run out, hoist open the roof, make kiddush from a cup that was already more precipitation that wine, and run back in to dry off, with the hope that a bowl of hot chicken soup would ward off the inevitable seasonal snuffles.

In both of these situations you spent at least an hour at some point over the holiday season in a group conversation, that sometimes resembled a pre-strike trade union gathering, discussing why The Big Boss chose the seasons He did for the holidays we "celebrate": Sukkot in the snow, the fast of the 9th of Av that goes out at 11pm, Tu B'Shvat (New Year for trees) when the ground is still in permafrost, etc. Why is our religion not seasonally sensitive?? Are even our holidays supposed to be a burden?? What, with our backaches, the price of Jewish education today, and the dreadful service at the restaurant last week, don't we have enough to complain about???

The simple answer is: There is a solution to (almost) all of your woes!

There is a magical kingdom where Yom Kippur ends at 6pm, where you don't lose fingers to frostbite whilst lighting your Chanukah candles outside for all the world to see, where the best football game of the season will never force you to choose whether to be there for Kol Nidrei, or to be just a little bit late (He'll understand). 

A couple of times a year Shlomit comes home from a store and proclaims the goodness of living in a country where your own seasonal symbols are the ones paraded on display in the commercial district. "I just love it!" she will invariably effuse, "They give out apple and honey to you as you walk by! The songs are ours, not carols, ours! You don't have to explain to anybody why you want a fish head!" 

OK, that last one is mine, but you get the picture.

Sukkot, for us, is generally spent at Shlomit's elder sister's house on a kibbutz in the North. There are more or less 14 of us nowadays (us and our 3, them and their 3, the parents and the younger sis-with-spouse) who gather to celebrate the one festival in the calendar that is actually called "a festival of rejoicing" (no fasting, no extended dirges in shul... there is a little bit of twig shaking, but even so, it hardly seems Jewish to have so much fun).

Putting up the Sukkah (a task that is generally identified as something you drag yourself out into the cold to do, late at night - as if surviving Yom Kippur wasn't enough, He was now going to see you off one hammered thumb after another!!?!) takes about 25 minutes. You have to make sure that the metal lego-style frame has its cotton "walls" arranged so that the door will open towards the house, and of course you have to tie it down so it doesn't blow away in the breeze that will playfully dance across the rolling, green hilltops to dissipate the slightest over-warming you may be feeling under the gaze of the autumn sun. The children will spend the days designing artwork that will be displayed both from the walls and among the fruits that can be hung from the trellis that will support the leafy roof, through which we will look for the stars that shine as if hung out in the clear skies as the whole family wines and dines in comfort and togetherness....

Pretty picture, no? The truth? Ok.. The kids will fight over who gets the chair next to Saba, somebody (I have $10 on it being Shlomit, again!) will spill half a bottle of coke on the tablecloth and the baby won't sleep so well in yet another strange bed... but you know what? 

This is how Sukkot was supposed to be!

The season is perfect, the fruits are ripe, the national spirit (whilst not necessarily 100% in line with the day's mitzvot) is absolutely in-tune with the message of the festival - happiness, freedom, the people connecting with our land - what could be better than this? (besides that, cynic!)

Oh, yes, and we one keep one day of Yomtov at either end!

Heaven, no?

Well, perhaps it's not heaven, but it is Israel, and that's the closest we have to heaven on earth!

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