I hereby wrap up my sharing of my more favorite or IMHO more important It’s Wednesday columns as the retirement looms. The Tribute on Sunday was so overwhelmingly great. My family and I feel so honored and appreciated and appreciative.
The current year began with my parking ticket appeal and continued with the more serious events involving Rabbi Freundel and Jefferson MO (and similar places) that highlighted the strains in the racial fabric of our country. I blogged from the Israel Ride and Cuba. We talked about Charlie Hebdo and the kosher deli, Netanyahu and Obama, and many more topics. I finished the year with my favorites from the past ten years. Today I will share my favorite of the favorites. Only kidding. Here is one from the fall that captures pretty much all of what I hoped It’s Wednesday would be.
The highest holidays are in the rearview mirror; they went well by most accounts. If you have feedback we should hear, write to me at the address below or to our other clergy. Sukkot begins tonight. I just know that you want to hear about my sukkah(s).
This year I have retired the sukkah that we have been using for at least 20 years. Coincidental? Its design and most of its actual parts were fashioned by Pat and Jerry Danoff in their basement and garage decades ago. Hundreds of Beth El families have or had the Danoff sukkah. Unlike my previous design, out of The Jewish Catalogue, these didn’t fall over in a breeze, and they were easily enlarged to meet the needs of people like us who entertain a lot in the sukkah.
Over time, alas, rain-soaked wood tends to warp and bolt holes in the wood get larger and larger, so that the whole thing sagged, the vinyl shades we used for sides were decrepit, and altogether it was looking shabby. I made a silent vow to replace it this year. Of course nothing was done with that vow until about ten days ago when sukkah building time finally hit my brain. With our google machine we were able to find many sites that offer prefab sukkot at rather reasonable rates. We settled on the Sukkah Project, started as a mitzvah by some Chapel Hill Jews and subsequently made it into a business. Two days later it all arrived on our doorstep (just like Amazon Prime which I am sure I should have checked first) and yesterday up it went (in one tenth the time of the previous model.)
Transitions like this are not without their little losses. The Danoff sukkah entertained hundreds of people like you over the years, besides the traditional Ushpizin guests (Abraham Isaac etc.). Scores of kids were tested on the holiday symbol chart and scores of adults were freaked out by the scary rebbe pictures. Your New Year cards, laminated of course, covered the walls. There were rainy days where all we could do was make Kiddush, and cold days where coat after coat was brought out from the closet. For the most part, however, in this climate zone it is usually just perfect to be in the sukkah on a late summer (or early fall) evening with family and friends. And when we were sitting there, all the guests from the past and a lot of memories were sitting beside us.
The most visceral memories related to building the sukkah. The Danoff sukkah, due to some gremlin I introduced into its software, needed many hours and four people to complete. Neighbors, not the Jewish ones for some reason (busy with their own?) had to be gathered to make it happen. It was an annual interfaith event. The new sukkah, on the the other hand, needs just Gail and me, it is so simple, and the neighbors are actually a little sad. Then there was gathering the bamboo that we used for the schach. (If you can pronounce that word, then your Hebrew is good.) It came from across the street, an enormous tall patch each of whose stalks yielded three sukkah-spanning lengths. Of course within hours the leaves had shriveled up and more was needed. Bamboo is like a plague, and that neighbor depended on me to thin her crop. No more; we opted for the bamboo mats now, which are serviceable but hardly feel like schach. And then there is the indentation in Gail’s leg. Remember about the four people? Early on, we thought maybe with the right technique we could take it down with just two. The critical moment of disconnecting the main beams was a disaster, one beam falling on me and knocking me off the ladder, much of the sukkah itself landing on Gail’s leg. Not quite an emergency room trip, but the evidence is still there.
It’s time to create a new set of memories in our new sukkah. Sukkot is my favorite holiday. It’s not because of Build the Joy where Religious School families help build and decorate more than 30 different sukkot, as inspiring as that is. It’s not because of the great and shorter holiday services (beginning with Thursday and Friday this week), or even the Hiddur Mitzvah judging contest Thursday or my deli sermon and lunch on Friday. No, it’s about that little booth where community and memories are built. I hope you will be in one in coming days.
Enjoy this Wednesday. The holiday begins with a service at 6:30. Chag Sukkot Sameach. Bill Rudolph
Back to now. This Memorial Day weekend begins with Shabbat followed immediately not by Sukkot but by two days of Shavuot. Info about the Tikkun and first fruits and yizkor went out on the listserv; it can be found on our website as well, as can be found the video shown at the Tribute (click on the Facebook logo – you don’t even need a Facebook account.) Next Wednesday we leave with a great group of Beth El folk for our Israel Mission. I expect to send out my final It’s Wednesday before departure.
Best regards and have a good day. Bill Rudolph