Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Cheshvan 5766 - November 9, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Succos Revisted
by Daniel Neuman

With only a few days left to Succos, I was in desperate need of more schach, a folding table and a serviceable bed. I wasn't panicked you see, since we had the money, but nevertheless I needed to figure out a way to acquire my succah furnishing without actually purchasing them. That would be a last resort, as those are exactly the sort of bulky items that a young kollel couple living conditionally in Israel must avoid ownership of, when at all possible.

After a while, even the most basic human necessities are first evaluated by weight and bulk. "So the doctor says I need penicillin; that should fit in our carry-on." It's just that things like folding tables and guest beds tend to be viewed as more overhead that will be sold at a considerable loss should the time come to rotate back to the States.

I'm not a cheapskate. I've just seen that the philosophy of buying everything you need when and how you need it, beget the financial ruin of too many a kollel couple. Cheapskate or not, Succos was approaching rapidly and I needed things to start working out.

A table came by way of a generous neighbor whom I helped to hang some drapes; he practically insisted I take one of his folding tables. He was spending Succos with his parents in a hotel anyway, and who am I to argue? The schach came similarly by way of a generous upstairs neighbor, a young rabbi with some sort of kiruv program, whom I was helping to construct his own rooftop succah.

Upon completion of his enormous metal- and cloth-framed kiruv superstructure, I was led downstairs to a storage room containing no less than 4000 square feet of the finest, mehudar-alef-alef, cane-matting available. This was the Fort Knox — no, the Shangri La — of succah roofing. "By the way, does your succah need any more schach?"

"Oh, I think I could find some space for it. Why, do you think you'll have any extra?" Two down, one to go.

The night before erev Succos the succah-bed situation was looking grim. The next morning I would be thrown to the mercy of a retail market at the height of its season. I stepped out onto the sidewalk holding a bag of garbage for the dumpster across the street. And there, like a far-off desert mirage, I saw it. Over by the dumpster.

She was a single sized wooden frame/box spring combination that had clearly seen better days and was probably discarded with such fortunate timing when the previous owner's wife decided that it was no longer fit for her home which, she would repeat, was not a yeshiva apartment, no matter how much the owner of said wooden frame/box spring combination thought it was. One wife's victory is another wife's semi-rotten water-stained bed. But that's not a truly fair description.

True, it had shredded recycled foam slowly leaking out of a torn seam. And yes, it had obviously been left out for its fair share of rainy Succos evenings. But it lacked the exposed razor sharp springs that are practically required by Israeli law before any upholstered furniture is disposed of.

It was perfect. It retained all the qualities essential for its purpose: solid, comfortable, and expendable enough to forget about in a sudden downpour. It would keep me off the ground, providing an illusion of safety from gigantic cockroaches (whose high season thankfully comes to an end around Succos time) and would add some spring to the high quality foam guest mattress topping it. Plus, as I would learn, sleep on a scavenged bed is twice as sweet. It was perfect?

What I didn't plan on was getting a nasty respiratory tract infection after two nights of sleeping in the succah, breathing cold soupy night air, after which it was decided, by my wife and a posek in that order, that I would be sleeping inside for the rest of Succos. I've since decided that the only thing more gratifying than saving a bundle of money by not buying a new bed is saving that bundle by not buying a new bed that you would only have needed to use for two nights anyway.

I'm really not a cheapskate, and I like to think that even after I hit it rich I'll still adhere to the long lost Jewish ethic of doing a lot with a little. Not only does efficient living lend itself to staying out of debt, but it sort of helps you keep a healthy focus about what brings true happiness in life.

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate nice things as much as — and probably better than — the next guy. I have a $400 Schwinn mountain bike, with a lightweight aluminum frame, and high quality Shimano components. It's fast, incredibly agile, and has a really cool two-toned glossy paint job.

I felt more than a little guilty buying it, but my wife assured me it would be an early birthday present and would be worth the money in the long run with all the bus fare I would be saving. I might even get some exercise, she added delicately. It was a luxury. There were lots of cheaper bikes I could have bought. But let's remember, it's still just a bike. Most of my friends back in the States have two cars, with insurance, not to mention gas.

For the first Shabbos Chol Hamoed meal, my wife and I were invited to eat at the rented apartment of a friend's parents. The family was in town from the U.K. and spending the chag in a comfortably furnished apartment, tucked inconspicuously into the second floor of a Geula walkup. My wife and I were honored to be among the lucky list of acquaintances invited to revel in our hosts' holiday spirit and, of course, their spectacular wine selection. Here's the peculiar part.

No less than twice did our hosts mention the state-of-the-art washer and dryer with which their apartment came. We even got to see them. Bear in mind that we're talking about very-well- off people here. People who probably haven't given a second thought to their laundry appliances back home since they were purchased ten years ago.

It was at this meal that I came to a perplexing realization. While foreign tourists have gotten a reputation of being stubborn at adapting to Israeli standards of living, it seems that one of the reasons they come is to emphasize the very dissonance those standards carry, in comparison to their usual lifestyles. It's clear that on some level, the purpose of this vacation was to experience some simplicity, that is, to get excited over a good electric clothes dryer.

My wife and I acquired a first-class secondhand dryer last winter. Dryers are still largely considered a luxury over here and I'll be the first to admit, it felt pretty liberating to get excited about owning one. It now occurs to me that every year, thousands of frum tourists spend loads of money just to get a taste of the simple, basic lifestyle my family gets to lead year round just by not having loads of money. This, by the way, also feels pretty liberating. I live in a place most people only get to experience on vacation.

As a kid, I always wondered why all those people who worked really hard all year to afford five star tropical vacations didn't just move down to the Carribean for good and get jobs diving for pearls or picking bananas like the rest of the natives. Instead of staying in some resort's rustic style bamboo hut for a week of rejuvenation, you could stay in your own genuinely rustic bamboo hut the whole year round. It all seemed so simple.

But with a bit of maturity, I quickly realized that I hadn't thought of anything anyone else hadn't and that, like a lot of things, it just wasn't so simple. No matter how exotic the place you live in is, once you're there for a while it stops feeling like a vacation and starts feeling like real life again.

It seems that the real trick, wherever you live, is to break out of your usual surroundings enough to gain a bit of appreciation for what makes your everyday life truly special. This is a concept that's all too familiar, having just come away from Succos. It's gotta be something much greater than a nice bike, or an electric dryer, that makes my life so pleasurable.

I don't really know where I'm going to store that threadbare old bed in our two room apartment. My wife thinks we should take a cue from its previous owner who "must have dumped it for a reason," but I still think it's a good bed.


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