Friday, October 24, 2008

Winter Begins

If you were wondering why I did not blog last week, I have a story to tell.

It has to do with Sukkot, aka Sukkos, that holiday that when I was a kid didn't exist except as some quaint harvest-celebration that meant nothing to a town-mouse like me.

If the High Holidays are like a meal, then Rosh Hashana is the first course, YK is the second course, and Sukkos is dessert.

Why anyone would want to leave the table before dessert is beyond me.

It reminds me of when my friend BJ joined me at a family wedding in Oakland. He only stayed for the reception after the chuppa, then left with some disappointment - "That wasn't no wedding! There was no wedding cake!" Boy was there cake, but you had to linger a little longer....

So here's the story:

The problem with Sukkos in Baltimore is that in our first five years here, we got rained on. Rained on hard. It ain't fun sititng in a sukka when it's pouring rain. People here try to rig up some kind of tarp to pull over the sukka quickly when the sky opens up. We tried this for five years and for five years had a wet sukka. I suppose our standards of comparison (Jerusalem and Palo Alto) are a little high.

Anyhow, this year I decided I was ready to have a dry sukka where I could live like I live in my house (that's what they say you're supposed to do). Complete with furniture, carpeting, books, artwork on the walls, etc.

The plan was to build a fiberglass roof that opens up on a hinge with a pulley.

Sounds simple enough, but the carpenter I hired to build it disavowed any responsibility for the mechanism. That part was up to me.

"No problem," I told him. "With a couple pulleys, a child will be able to lift it."

The problem was that he didn't get his part done on time. In fact, he only finished around 2 pm the afternoon before the holiday. At 2:05 I realized I was going to need a winch, and the closest winch dealer was down in Glen Burnie, a good 40 min drive.

No problem, I still had 4 hours.

The guy who sold me the winch also sold me a 25 foot cable with a hook on it - strong enough to pull a boat out of the water, definitely strong enough to lift a few pounds of wood and fiberglass.

On the way home, I made my umpteenth stop at Home Depot "just in case". By then, most of the swarms of Jewish people who had filled the aisles earlier in the day had left. Why not pick up an extra steel cable and ropes, "just in case"?

I arrived home at 4:00 and somehow had to thread these cables through the roof's trap-door and eye-hooks on the side of the house 20 feet up. I roused the troops for the job.

Avrami (11 years old) went to the upstairs window while Goldi (9) stood guard at the foot of ladder. I heaved open the heavy trap with a 2x4 and gingerly slid onto the fiberglass. The door is so wide that I could only reach one side of it from that position. I then had to go down, outside the sukka, up a different ladder, and hook on the other cable.

Then I tied the loose ends of the cables to a string that ran up to Avrami's window. He pulled them up to the window.

I ran upstairs and, using a long bamboo stick that Avrami had found two years ago near the Puget Sound, I leaned out the window and threaded the first cable through it's eye-bolt (I had duct-taped the cable to the stick).

"Get ready, Goldi," I called down to her. "I'm going to try to throw this stick through the bolt and it will fall down to you. Are you ready?"

1-2-3 - I threw the stick and it went about 90% through the bolt then got jammed.

"Someone get me a long stick" I called back into the house (remember, at this point, I'm halfway out the window.

Avrami ran to get me a giant 2x4. In the meantime, Yosephi (4) who had until now been on the sidelines, stepped up to help, handing me a yardstick. It was perfect, enabling me to push the rest of the stick through the eye-bolt. It went through and dangled, and with a bit of additional prodding with the yardstick, it went down to Goldi.

Well, almost.

It turns out that the cable was too short. There was no way around it. It was not going to work.

We were now about an hour before the holiday.

I remembered the two 50-foot ropes I had picked up, "just in case."

Back to inside the sukka, up the ladder and out over the fiberglass to unhook the steel cable and tie on the first rope. Then out to the second ladder to the other side of the trap to tie on the second rope. These I tied to the useless steel cable and had Avrami pull it slowly up to the window.

Back upstairs, we had a mess - the two ropes somehow got tangled. What a mess. We got them untangled and then I tried the same trick with the bamboo staff, leaning out the window and threading it through the eyebolt.

"Are you ready, Goldi?"


"A-one, and a-two, and a-three!" I jabbed the staff as hard as I could. It sailed right through the bolt then, just like before, jammed on the last 10 percent.

"Where's the yardstick?"

Yoseph had it ready and waiting.

This time, when I tapped it through, instead of falling to Goldie, it just hung there, dangling. Out of my reach.

"Maybe if I could lean a little farther out and tap it..."

I did. It swung. Finally it swung enough to come back to me so I could grasp it and give it a really good toss down to Goldie.

"Hang on to that rope, don't let it go!" I yelled to her.

I ran down to get the staff and she was holding on to that rope as if her life depended on it.

Back up the stairs to thread the second rope through its eye-bolt. Same thing, same jam, same swing, and finally the two ropes were threaded.

That may have been the hardest part, but it wasn't done yet.

The guy who sold me the winch told me he wasn't sure it would work with a rope. The clamp for the cable wasn't big enough for a rope.

At this point, about 30 min before the holiday, I was out of options. If my boy-scout knots at the other end of the ropes are going to work, they oughtta work at the winch end, I thought. So I tried it.

At this point, I was all alone. Everyone else was in some stage of showering or getting dressed. If this didn't work, we and our guests would be joining our neighbors in their sukka.

The crank seemed too easy to turn. And as I turned, nothing was happening. Then suddenly, the trap door over my head began magically to lift. Magestically. It was really quite awesome and most gratifying.

Sukkos, as a dessert to the High Holidays, can be boiled down to one thing - internalizing a deep happiness that should endure the entire year.

We have no more Torah holidays until the spring (Passover). Six months of winter. Six months of focusing on our daily lives and worries and not having to "worry" about Jewish stuff (except the "minor" holidays of Hannuka and Purim that were added later).

I find there are two kinds of people out there. As the economic pain deepens, there are those who say, "Thank God the holidays are over, I have too much else to worry about!" And there are those who say, "Thank God for the holidays, without them I would never stop worrying."

Question for your table: What type are you?

(and what are you going to do about it?)

Shabbat Shalom.


Anonymous said...

Well, Rabbi, if they ever make a movie called "National Lampoon's Flip-Top Sukkah," who do you want to play you?

Thanks for the smiles and good Shabbos! from

The Florida Bentleys

Daniela said...

I would very much like to have seen what it looked like flip top up rather than flip top down. :) But it looks really nice !

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Look closely - the top is up.