The High Holiday season is filled with rituals and moments that leave a lasting impression on a kid, from Shofar blowing to fasting to Sukkah building to cleaning up busted Butternut squash that fell during Sukkah decoration hanging.
For me, one of the most memorable parts of the busy month was the annual Sukkah Hopping our community would do. Several families in town would open their Sukkahs to the entire community, and we’d all pop in together for a bite to eat and some holiday singing. (The neighbors didn’t mind the eating…)
We’d all leave together from the synagogue, a real sight as men, women, and children marched through the neighborhood in what only abstract art would call a line. The cavalcade usually included many strollers – one with a three-week-old, another with a chirpy two-year-old, another with schnapps and herring, just in case.
Our first stop was the Rabbi’s sukkah, which us kids conveniently missed. I’d been told in a variety of places, “You need to be quiet while the rabbi is talking!” I didn’t need to add sukkah to the list. (In fact, once while the rabbi was speaking, I figured it would be fun to shout “Lord, have mercy!” after every sentence. First I got a dirty look, then an elbow to the ribs, and finally someone lifted me by my suspenders and carried me out of the room, and the funeral went on undisturbed).
Our next stop was the sukkah of an old lady whose name I never knew, but she would put out a bucket of candy that would put the top Trick-or-Treaters to shame. There was so much candy there we could come home and legitimately not mind sharing with our sisters.
That was also where Old Uncle Dizzy would sit and tell stories of his days at the Post Office. He wasn’t actually old, but then he wasn’t actually my uncle either. My 9-year old brain thought that the Post Office was where they made Honeycomb and Super Sugar Crisp cereal, but Dizzy taught me better. He told about his odd collection of coworkers: the guy missing a thumb and three fingers on his right hand whom they called “Number One”; the old man who’d clock in and curl up under a table and sleep until shift’s end; and the lady who constantly sang at such a high pitch that they never had a problem with mice. Dizzy said that towards the end of his shift he would get so hungry he’d eat anything: Tofu, old Kishka, finger-wetting sponges – if he got really desperate he’d even drink a Shasta cola!
Then we’d continue up the road to the Feinblum’s. That’s where I’d try to avoid Shalom, the walking advertisement for Brut deodorant, who just had to pinch my cheek. “Aaah! Achahamshamdachamatchahabibi!” he’d say, I think in Hebrew, as he’d literally take off a piece of my face. Mrs. F. would come out to the sukkah and find me and offer me a beer. And I’d always say no, telling her that if I had a beer here I’d get whacked upside my head when I came home. “That’s the beauty of beer,” she would say, “after you have a few you won’t even feel the beating.” She also told me that if I knocked back a few cold ones I’d get hair my chest. Exactly! The last thing I needed was to have to walk around the JCC locker room with my 9-year old chest covered in hair! My Sesame Street bathing suit was embarrassing enough. She did make a wicked chili though. (It was the bathroom at our next stop that suffered).
Next was the sukkah of Mrs. Moody. Going to her was a mini-Yom Kippur for us, because she didn’t serve any food that a healthy, sober kid should eat! She served the kind of stuff that I’d only eat if I was starring in a reality TV show with a really lucrative cash prize for the winner, and I’d already knocked back a few of Mrs. F.’s cold ones. “Why aren’t you eating my delicious asparagus muffins?” she’d whine. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Moody,” I’d tell her the truth, “I’m allergic to asparagus. It makes me die.” So we fasted.
Our final stop was down the block at the Greens. That was always fun. Mr. Green always had something exotic to show off from his many trips abroad. One year it was an iguana, one year an ornamental duck made entirely out of sunflower seeds (Not edible. I know that now.), and one year a plastic parrot that when you passed in front of it was supposed to say “Happy Holidays!” But, he claimed, since the baggage handlers at Republic Airlines thought that “fragile” was French for “football,” the parrot was a little busted and kept saying “Happy Holly!”
One year Mr. Green came back from a trip to Italy and put out cans of Digestivo. I took one look at the nutrition panel and said, “No, grazie!.” See, I follow one simple rule: Don’t eat anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce. It’s either bad for you or it’s a can of wasp spray. Either way, by then it was time for me to go help Mom hang Butternut squash in our sukkah.