Monday, October 1, 2007

Sukkot Silliness

First, let's get it out of the way. I think Sukkot is stupid.

Don't get me wrong, I can see how it could be modified to be meaningful- a drash on how we should be thankful about having a roof over our heads, be kind to the homeless, etc, the kind of tikkun olam stuff I usually have very bad knee-jerk reactions to- but if I'm honest? I just don't really get it. Maybe it's because, like Purim, like Shimni Atzeret (can someone PLEASE explain that one to me?), it wasn't one of the Jewish holidays I grew up sort of attempting to emulate at home. Also, "Festival of Booths" sounds absolutely moronic, and half the time people either don't hear the "th" and think you says boobs or something, or they assume it's you and your friends reinacting your favorite scenes from the Phantom Tollbooth like the pathetic fanboys you are. At least on Lag B'Omer you get to burn things. (Incidentally, while Jewing out at college, I explained Sukkot to the clueless with the pithy, "It's the Shantytown Holiday", and people almost always understood fairly quickly. Let's face it, the sukkah looks a damn lot more like a shack than it does a "booth". Who do we talk to about changing this translation?)

My hatred of Sukkot is, more than anything, related to my absolute ineptitude when it comes to construction or, frankly, any real handyman-related activity. One year at college, it somehow fell to me to construct the entire sukkah myself. This was, of course, after a last-minute freakout from the frumer members of the not-Hillel (supposedly, we were like, way cooler than Hillel, and didn't need them! Also, they said we weren't big enough to have funding, so we refused to adopt the name just to spite them. I suggested "Shammai" at a bunch of meetings, but people didn't get the joke- or rather, refused to give me the satisfaction of saying it was funny) about whether or not our sukkah was kosher. You see, we bought it online and it turned out that one of the big-name sukkah vendors was holding out on giving his wife a get (that's a divorce for you there Gentiles). As a result, there were various bans put in place against him. To make matters even more complicated, just about every online sukkah vendor sounds exactly the same- SukkahWorld, SukkahMart, Heshy's Sukkah Emporium, House Sukkah o'Sukkahs, etc. I told them that if we had gone with my choice,, this could have been avoided, but as usual, people told me to shut up. It turned out that our sukkah was kosher, but frankly, at that point, I wouldn't have given a crap. Worst came to worst, I would wait until after the holiday and then lug the crap back to NY and set up a protest tent sukkah outside the bastard's house.

Anyway, this thing was nice enough- canvas walls, steel pole frame, a ringed shower-curtain style door system, it even had a plastic window peephole with a flap to cover it (to keep Cossacks out, presumably). If it wasn't for such a stupid occaission, it could have been a fun fort.

The problems began when it came time to build the damn thing. As usual, everyone bailed, so me and a buddy, who I'll call well-meaning-but-spineless Joe, or Jello for short, got stuck with it. First we had to pick it up from the campus mailroom and lug the damn thing across the quad- easier said than done considering we were schlepping around a 14-foot long cardboard box filled with steel pipes. Out of my way, trustafarians!

That done, we unpacked and studied the directions. It was here that things turned into a major melt-down. The sukkah could only be assembled via a particularly fiendish device known as an Allen Wrench, or what I call Satan's screwdriver. Allen Wrenches are a pain in the ass, and this particular one was tiny and had to be grasped with the whole hand to turn. To make things even better, there was only one.

I spent the better part of a day building this piece of crap, on my own. Jello wanted to help, but since he didn't have a Satan Screwdriver, all he could do was hold the pipes and get me a chair when I had to connect high things. If it's true that you get bonus mitzvah points for doing crap on your own, then I'm riding this damn accomplishment for the next decade. We stuck left-over pine-tree leavings on the thing and called it a Sukkah. And even then, almost nobody went in the damn thing.

Next year: my roommate and I decide to build our own sukkah, as I'm boycotting the sukkah from Hell (also the not-Hillel was maybe going to use it, though this wound up not happening after I declared a mandatory 5-person minimum minyan for construction to occur and we only got 3- Jello, me, and the incoming student leader after the rest of us graduated). We decided to forgo steel or wood, and instead went to Home Depot to try to get PVC pipe.

Oh my God. Major mistake. First of all, those guys couldn't understand what the hell we wanted to do. "You want to make, like, a giant box?"


"With PVC pipe?"



"Look, never mind. The question is, what do you recommend we use?"

"I'd recommend you don't do it."

And other fun misadventures. We needed to pick pipe widths, and lengths. We needed them to cut them. They didn't have the right joints; we had to come up with crazy-ass combination joints on the fly. Finally, we got all the crap we needed and came to the fun part: getting all this PVC into the 4-door-sedan (I sat behind my roommate, human-rubber-band style, holding onto dear life as the pipes, stuck diagonally through both front and rear windows, wobbled precariously on the 25-minute ride home. Also, at some point it started to rain. Again, major mitzvah points.

Once we got it home, assembly again proved to be a bitch, as not everything quite fit right on our patio, and of course since some of the PVC was pretty thin (1/4 inch?), it wobbled like crazy. Also, we had nothing to go around the frame, something SG thankfully fixed by stealing some spare fabric from the theater department and making us some cool curtain walls. And it rained most of the week, as it tends to in that part of the country at that part of the year, and so it was only very occasionally we got to spend any time in the thing, which, if I'm honest, I wasn't that broken up about (though I did feel cheated for not riding along to the Chabad to pick up the lulav and etrog).

Long story short, I have very mixed feelings about this damn holiday. It is, IMO, one of the biggest pains-in-the-ass outside of Passover, and, like that illustrious holiday, I get very resentful of the subtle ways in which the spirits of long-dead rabbis start to seem like they're just making shit up to screw with you the longer the thing goes on. (I get mental pictures of Rashi saying to a scribe, "And then say they have to stand on their heads! And put their socks on their noses! And if they fall off, they have to eat them!")

So all of that is background to last Shabbos. Shiksa Girlfriend and I went to Beth Elderly for Friday Night, only barely remembering that it was Sukkot. When we got there, they had more folks than usual, which was nice, though we were still pretty much the only 20-somethings (hell, we were practically the only ones who still had pigment in our hair).

Services were nice enough, at this point we pretty much know how these guys operate. It's not quite as Carlebach as I like, but it's pretty good, definitely in our top three in the city. And afterwards we all file outside to the Sukkah.

Ok, this is where things get weird. First of all, these people are basically in a giant wind tunnel because they're pretty close to the Pacific, and second, their roof leaves a lot to be desired. Clearly the focus was on getting the kinderlach to show up and help, not on structural integrity. I'm not saying it's going to collapse on us, just that it's not much of a shelter. As we all stand outside and freeze our butts, the cantor announces that she and some other brave and hearty souls are going to spend the night out there, in the synagogue alley sukkah, in sleeping bags, and have a nice catered, hot breakfast the next morning.

I poke the GF. "If you ask me, they'd be better off skipping the breakfast and getting some space heaters."

We continue to discuss the matter as we shuffle back inside for the potluck. We sit next to an old man, who was singing very off-key during the kiddush but seems nice enough (he makes a point of telling us that the Two-Buck-Chuck won an award a few years ago, and we pretend he hasn't told us three times before), and two, later three, older yenta types.

One of them quickly annoys me. Overhearing us discussing the vegan options, she inquires as to our eating habits. I explain that I'm lactose-intolerant and the kind allowances SG has made for me in order to keep up with her love of cooking and baking.

"That's great," the woman says. "I don't eat dairy because of the cholesterol," she announces proudly.

Um... great?

Things get weirder. As she heard us discussing some of the Sukkot laws (the number of required sides, the issues with the roof, the potential loophole I'm sure other people have contemplated of building your sukkah underneath a skylight), she starts asking me, "So how do you know all this stuff?"


She gives me a stare. Who ever heard of such a thing?

A few minutes later, she's asking me about kashrut. "So, is soy cheese, like, you know, cheese? Is it dairy?"

Uh, not as far as I know.

"It depends how you're counting," Shiska Girlfriend interjects. "Some things have a little bit of dairy that don't really affect their nutritional count, or the Friar's digestion, but would technically be considered dairy under kashrut."

I feel a little twinge of pride coming on. Or something.

The woman nods, impressed or maybe just comatose. "So, is soy milk... is that dairy?"

Sigh. We run through this again, culminating with my trump card, "And since soy ice cream is pareve..."

"Oh, yeah. You know, I never thought of that. But then again, I don't eat ice cream, because it's not good for you."

Uh huh. Have another guilt-free blintz and tell me more.

The woman turns back to me. "So, do you keep kosher?"

"No." I exchange a look with SG. That was bizarrely direct.

"Do you observe the Sabbath?"

What is this, a kiruv workshop? Or a National Geographic Special? And who calls it the Sabbath? Are you the freaking reincarnation of Cotton Mather?

Finally, the woman asks me about my education. I tell her I went to a private high school in the city. "Oh, yes, I've heard of it. Now tell me, is this, uh... Catholic?"

At this point my eyes leap out of my skull, run across the table, and kick her in the nose.

"Sorry, sorry, I meant... uh, what's the word... a yeshiva?"

"No. Not even close. Nondemoninational, private... I guess about 1/3 Jews. Very, very, Reform, Jews."

And with that we ran off, to get our bus.

Upon reflection, I'm thinking maybe the woman was reacting to my clothes- I was wearing gray slacks, a white button-down shirt, and a navy blue sports jacket. Plus my new, super-Ashkenazi-style yarmulke.(which SG was kind enough to modify for my tiny pinhead). Maybe this already demonstrably-not-very-sharp woman just got really confused and figured that anyone with a hat that tall had to be frum?

Whatever. The point is that I should probably only use my newfound Chabad impersonation powers for mischief and entertainment. Who's down for crashing a shiur?


Antigonos said...

About not liking Sukkot--visit Israel, and you will. The entire holiday makes marvellous sense here (not to mention is great fun!

Oyster said...

wow, what a humourous post! :-)

I actually love Sukkot; it is my favorite Jewish holiday.

... and that's a Bukhari kippah. You can't get much further from Ashkenaz than that, my friend. :-p

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Hey now, Bukharia is closer to Ashkenaz than any other Jewish area (well, except Turkey).

The back of the hill said...

Super Ahsekenazi style kippah?

I now have a vision of a bright-eyed, cheerfull and freshfaced, young reporter type running into a phone booth.

Then out pops this shtreng-litvish looking scholar, off to do battle with amhoretzim and cossacks everywhere!

The link no longer works. I'm guessing a tall Lithuanian-ish dark velvet number, spare and severe.
And I am burning with curiosity.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

TBOTH- It's definitely tall, and sort of severe. Well, except for the gold. Check it out.

If anyone can find me an authentically bare and spare one, I'll totally get it. In the meantime, I'm happy to have found one that's at least the right shape/height (after some adjustments to make it less pointy and fit my head better).

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