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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.