Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Adam rotzeh kav shelo..."

The following is a short piece from Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman, of Ahavas Israel in Passaic, NJ. The piece also appeared in the Succos edition of Mishpacha Magazine, and I found it very moving. I think what resonated so deeply was the effort and the pleasure the people involved took in putting something meaningful together, something that we don't very often have these days with the ubiquity of "convenient" methods to perform mitzvot.

We have the pleasure of being in the Holy Land for the chag, and due to our arrival shortly before the beginning of the chag, I had to rely on someone else to purchase my dalid minim (Four Species). The fact that I wasn't personally involved in the process of buying and setting it up rubbed me the wrong way, in terms of quality as well; I simply wasn't happy with the way my lulav was prepared. But I think that it stems more from the fact that I had virtually no part in it more than anything else...

A Succah Grows in Brooklyn

It was 1971 the young man was looking forward to Succos. Although he lived in Brooklyn and attended yeshiva, nevertheless his family was not unique in not having a Succah of their own.

Although nowadays one walks the streets of Borough Park and Flatbush and there is hardly a house without a Succah, in the early 1970s there were many Frum Jews who did not ‘yet’ have their own Succah. Many people made due with the Shul’s Succah or shared with a neighbor and did not have their own private Succah. The young man and his family were one of those families.

Our friend was disappointed that his family had no Succah to call their own and he asked his parents if this year they could have their own Succah. After discussing the matter and looking into various options, his parents told him that they could not afford a Succah this year; maybe next year, but not this year.

Yom Kippur had passed and so had the Shabbos between Yom Kippur and Succos. Sunday night would be Succos and once again the family would eat a quick meal in the Shul Succah and come home to go to sleep. His parents could feel his disappointment however; financially they were strapped and could not afford a Succah. As he sat at home silently eating his Melave Malka with less than 24 hours before Yom Tov he was sad.

When his parents excitedly called before he headed off to sleep that Motzei Shabbos, he was not sure if he was already dreaming. “We are at friends and they just told us that they have the frame of their old Succah in their garage. They are away for Yom Tov and they said you could have it.”

 The young man could hardly sleep that night.

Immediately after Shacharis he jumped in his parent’s 63 Oldsmobile Cutlass and headed to his parent’s friend’s garage to retrieve ‘two by fours’ in various lengths.

When he came home he realized that all he had was ‘at best’ the potential for a wall-less frame of a Succah and there was less than 10 hours to go to Yom Tov.

However, the dream was too wonderful to give up on so he took his two ‘left-hands’ and began to clumsily bang a nail here and cut a piece of wood there as he Davened to Hashem for his Succah.

 At about 11 in the morning as the young man was ‘hocking away’ his Israeli neighbor Yossi who was ‘not-yet-frum’ (he is actually very frum now and is a Rebbe living in Israel after learning in Kollel for many years) walked by and said, “What are you doing?” “I am building a Succah”, our friend replied. Yossi quickly ran to his home and returned in a flash with a proper hammer and a working saw and announced, “At the rate you are going, you will finish by Pesach. Move over and let me give you a hand.”

 For the first time in the history of East 82 Street in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the sounds of Succah building was heard in the air.

Lenny Waldman a ‘never-to-be-frum-Jew’ walked by and said, “What you guys doing?” Once again our friend said, “We are building a Succah.” Lenny looked at them and asked, “What is going to be the roof for your little Succah?”

Our friend realized that in his rush to build the Succah he had forgotten about the most important part, “The Schach!”

 The young man looked at Lenny and said, “I don’t know, however, we will think of something. We need something which grows which won’t wither during the eight day holiday.”

 Lenny, who was a quiet man, said nothing but disappeared into his house.  A few moments later he re-appeared complete with ladder and a large pair of electric shears and methodically he began to cut large swathes from the huge evergreen tree which grew in his front yard. “I always wondered why I let it grow so large”, Lenny said aloud as he continued to ‘buzz’ the tree.

Henry Gordon who lived with his 92 year old mother and drove a cab in the city was parking his cab as he heard Lenny cutting his large evergreen tree. “Lenny, what you doing?” he inquired. Lenny said, “The young guy next door is building a Succah and I am helping him out with the covering.”

 “Well, the frame looks okay, however, what are they using for walls?” Mr. Gordon asked. “Beats me” said Lenny; “Ask the kid.”

Henry came over and inquired, “What about the walls? Where are they?” Our friend simply answered, “I don’t know; however, I guess I’ll grab some old sheets and tack them to the frame.” Henry looked at ‘Yossi the Israeli builder’; he glanced at ‘Lenny the tree-trimmer’ and said “I have an idea, I’ll be back soon.”

Ten minutes later he reappeared pushing a wheel-barrel full of doors. “When I drive around the city, anytime I see an old door, I stop the cab and throw it in the trunk. I don’t know why, however, I have been doing it for years. Let me ‘donate’ them as walls for your Succah”.

 Slowly Yossi, Henry and our friend began to attach the door to the frame and as the sun began its westward descent, the Succah looked more like a reality than a dream.

Murray Cohen who would always refer to himself as a ‘non-practicing Kohen’ was the last neighbor to meander across the street. “Hey, what you all doing?” he asked as he answered his own question by saying, “Looks like you are building a Succah. Wow, I have never seen one of those around Canarsie.”

He looked at the mishmash of doors turned into walls; of evergreen branches becoming Schach and of Yossi the secular Israel becoming a Succah builder.

“You know what, wait one minute I have something for you.” Murray ran across the street to his house and returned with a large sheet of green felt. “You know I fix pool tables for a living and when they redo the old tables they give me the old green felt. I have no use for it however; it seems that if we staple the felt to the doors it will give the Succah a real homey feeling.” Soon Murray was stapling felt across the doors to create green walls as Lenny was putting the finishing touches on the evergreen Schach and as Yossi the builder hammered in the final nail.

It was 6 P.M. candle lighting was just minutes away; our friend looked at Lenny, Yossi, Henry and Murray and then set his eyes on his Succah as he realized that sometimes dreams do come true.

That night as our friend entered his Succah and was about to make Kiddush there was a knock on the Succah door. In walked Lenny who said, “Hey looks pretty cozy in here.” Soon Henry appeared explaining that he was simply admiring his handiwork, followed by Yossi and Murray who both said, “Let’s see how this Succah actually ‘works’.”

 As our friend recited Kiddush he felt no need to ‘invite’ the Ushpizin. As he glanced at his Succah and saw the proud faces of Yossi, Lenny, Murray and Henry he had no doubt that all of the Ushpizin were already proudly standing right next to him in his ‘dream’ Succah.

Many years have passed since the Succos of 1971. Our friend now has a large and roomy Succah connected to his kitchen with panels coordinated by number and layers of ‘Glatt-kosher’ Schach.

His Succah is full of family and friends and has florescent light fixtures as opposed to the one hanging incandescent bulb of his Succah of 1971.

However, every year as I recite Kiddush in my Succah surrounded by family and friends I still pine for my Succah of 1971 which although was ad-hoc and small and flimsy was no doubt the most beautiful and precious Succah I was ever privileged to enter.

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