Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Labor Day That Wasn't

On Friday, I was heading to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem to fill out a certain form, when it occurred to me that this will be Labor Day weekend in The States, and I began to daydream about what we would be doing if we were still there – this being the first year when we won’t be there.
Now Labor Day is a funny kind of holiday. Once upon a time, it did have a purpose. It was established with the prodding of the American labor movement as a counterbalance to May Day. But few people nowadays have a kind word for labor unions, and I don’t know anybody today who takes Labor Day as an opportunity to hug a trade unionist. These days, it just marks the end of the summer, a good excuse for one last barbeque, more like a day off for good behavior. The summer is over: prepare to resume the normal routine. In more fastidious times, it signaled the last day when men could wear a straw hat; today, I’m told, it means that men should stop wearing flip-flops to work.
If we were back in Teaneck, we would have spent Sunday swimming and picnicking at Swartswood State Park, an isolated area an hour and a half from our home. Sometime about 5PM, we would have packed up and left, knowing that the season had ended, with the melancholy thought that we wouldn’t be back for another year and our Sundays would again be more prosaic. Monday, we would have done a host of chores and then partaken of the last official barbeque of the year with some close friends.
Instead, on Sunday we will be heading back to Talpiot, back to the Misrad Harishui (the equivalent of the Motor Vehicle Bureau) as one step in our getting an Israeli drivers license. We had been there last Wednesday, but they were closed. It seems here that government offices can decide not to open on a given day – sort of like a floating Labor Day. Here you have to go with the flow, make lemonade from lemons. We turned around, had lunch at the Hadar Mall, and went shopping and ordered a dining room table and chairs. Now I will be the first to concede that the commercial area in Talpiot is not the most scenic place one could be, and that a day spent gazing at Swartswood Lake would be more relaxing. But then again, Talpiot is one vast conglomeration of stores, so you might consider that we will be spending Sunday at the mall! (which you can’t do in Bergen County, NJ)
On Monday, the year starts for us in earnest. Barbara and I will be starting Ulpan, five hours a day, five days a week, for five months. What this means to me is that I will not be able to get up when I’m good and ready, daven, and have a leisurely breakfast over The Jerusalem Post. We will be up and about like the rest of Israel, in our case, making a 7AM bus into Jerusalem. Natania, several days shy of her 20th birthday, is volunteering to join the IDF and will be at an office in Jerusalem, taking a battery of tests. No barbeque for us! Maybe we can order takeout from Burger Bar!
Perhaps I should report on our Shabbat because it was so much fun. We were invited to Friday night dinner with Ian and Thelma, people we’ve met at Mussar Avichai, the synagogue I’ve been going to. Ian was immediately impressed when, not only had I heard of his hometown, Cardiff, Wales, but I that have actually been there. Thelma is a wonderful human being, a great interior decorator and a fine cook, but in need of constant subtitles. Among the guests were Donald, a South African who davens at the Russian shul near his house, and Adam and Rebecca, (sometimes known as Aaron and Rivka) New Yorkers who are now going to a French-speaking Chabad minyon. Amongst the bunch of us, we polished off three bottles of good Israeli red wine and downed some Scotch as a chaser. I rolled home and revived sufficiently the next morning to get to the 8AM minyon. Afterwards, we were invited to a Kiddush-lunch at the home of our neighbors Marvin and Yvette Shumacher, to introduce new olim in the neighborhood to some of the oldtimers (some of whom have been in Israel for as long as 30 years.) A few hours later we left to take a Shabbat nap. I was awakened in time to walk a half an hour to another event, a seudat shlishit (third meal) at the home of Alice and John Eigner, where we met a whole new crew of olim and vatikim (oldtimers.) Again, we left there two hours later so that I would be in time for maariv. We walked part of the way back with a woman we had just met named Orli, who, along with her husband, has been in Israel for several weeks. Orli was an art historian, and before she became religious, had specialized in part in Christian art: manuscripts and church architecture. And so, she and I began discussing our withdrawal from Christian culture, she from standing in cathedrals, I divesting myself of my considerable collection of Renaissance masses and Bach cantatas.
We stopped at their house for a minute for Barbara to use the facilities, long enough for me to admire the exquisite view of the Judean Hills from their living room and to consider the impressive collection of Jewish texts that was already unpacked and placed on new bookshelves. Orli’s husband, who was minding the kids, came down, and I realized who he was. He was the Levi who had sat next to me that morning at Mussar Avicha and had washed my hands when we gave the Priestly blessing.
Once Labor Day is over, in communities scattered throughout America, it will be time enough to get ready for “The High Holy Days” and all that that entails. Here in our Ancestral Homeland where we are not scattered, and where all the holidays have some meaning to the Jewish soul, the first consumer signs of the Yom Tovim have already appeared: you can buy two and three packs of Barkan wine at the checkout counter at The Home Center. I’ve been told that sukkah kits will soon be available at Ace Hardware here in the Maale Adumim mall.
So far, we are adjusting well to the loss of Labor Day; we have other things on our minds. I just hope I have the strength to make it through the 5, 5, 5 of Ulpan.

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