By Larry Gordon
How is it that the Jewish holidays — the yomim tovim — are never on time? They are either very early or way too late on our calendars. More than that, though we have experienced the various combinations of yom tov configurations — two-day yonif, three-day yonif, missing-many-workdays yonif — multiple times, we are still surprised at how yom tov falls out on our calendar.
Perusing the ads in this newspaper, one is forced to “hold kup,” as we say, in order to figure out what we should be doing first and what we should be planning to do next. Perhaps we should be thinking about the shape and state of our sukkah or where we are going to buy our esrogim and lulavim. Or maybe we should concentrate on Rosh Hashanah, then focus on Yom Kippur, and then resort to our yom tov version of a two-minute offense (a football reference, as the season starts a few days before Rosh Hashanah), and deal with Sukkos on the few days allotted to us to prepare for that chag.
To say the least, yom tov at this time of year is something akin to a juggling act. First of all, summer came to a close all too early with the start of Elul. By the first week of August, people were already thinking about and shopping for cool-weather clothing. That is all fine and good, of course, but it looks like the cool weather didn’t get the memo.
I walked out of my home during the last few days of August anticipating a slightly cool wind, but on each morning all I felt was the soupy humidity assaulting me, leaving me wondering about the late-August hint of autumn. I even called people in Monsey and the Catskills, thinking that they might have had that early hint of New York coolness that people in Miami Beach and Los Angeles have been deprived of all their lives, but there was nothing — just heat and humidity.
The extended forecast into next week and over Rosh Hashanah is daytime temperatures in the 80s, some days near 90, and only dropping to the 70s at night. It is going to be a warm New Year, of course, because Rosh Hashanah is way too early this year, so that only makes sense.
As long as we are on the subject of the errant and seemingly inconsistent schedule of our High Holy Days, be forewarned that a year from now, the first day of Rosh Hashanah will be September 30, which means we get to deal with a whole new set of circumstances with which we should be thoroughly familiar, but will catch us by surprise anyway.
And I know what else you are thinking with that new information parked somewhere inside your cerebral cortex. You are thinking to yourself that, in all likelihood, it is going to be a cold Sukkos next year. But why concern yourself with that now? The important thing, as the Psalmist said, is, “This day was made by Hashem; let us exult and rejoice in Him.”
In conversation the other day, it was pointed out that Rosh Hashanah falling out a week after Labor Day is really not the earliest day that the observance of the new Jewish year can occur. There have been, and will be, years when Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah are in the same week.
The calendar poses another challenge for those who spend Sukkos in Israel. Of course, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to leave for Israel this week and spend all of the holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos — in Eretz Yisrael. Some people may not be able to do that because of familial and professional obligations.
This year, the potential travel schedule is somewhat limited. If you do not want to be squeezed or too hassled, you might have to be in Israel for Yom Kippur, which means leaving the States on either Saturday night, Sunday, or Monday at the latest.
Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, will be overrun with visitors from the United States and other parts of the world over Sukkos. The holidays are indeed a great time of year to be in Israel. The weather is spectacular, the streets are alive and teeming with people — many people you know or at least recognize from back home, wherever you live — and so on. Back home, you may walk by these very same people with barely a nod of recognition, but there is something that evokes automatic camaraderie and friendliness when you meet them in Israel over the chagim.
For most, the yomim tovim will be spent at home with extended family and guests enhancing the observances and then celebrations. The reality of yom tov at home means splitting time between shul and the supermarket. An enjoyable yom tov is a combination of a great davening and good food with family and friends following services. That, it can be argued, is the apex of the human experience at this time of year.
A fulfilling davening, hearing and absorbing the internal messages of the shofar, followed by enjoyable cuisine, is what makes yom tov so pleasing and gratifying. On Rosh Hashanah, we are crowning our King, the Almighty King of Kings, whom we might otherwise take a bit for granted in the course of the year. That is perhaps why we need to focus on His Kingship and our subservience to Him at this time of year.
Then there is the solemnity and seriousness of Yom Kippur, a day of decision for all forms of life for the year ahead.
But then that is followed rather closely — five days between the two — by what is not dissimilar to a festive breakout of color war exclusively for the worldwide observant Jewish community. For our part, after about 20 years, we are purchasing a new, updated, state-of-the-art sukkah (if there is such a thing) from the wonderful and efficient Litton brothers who descend on the Five Towns from Denver at this time of year to make Sukkos possible. Erecting a sukkah prior to the appearance or the invention of the Litton brothers always involved a lot of uncertainty and guesswork. But now, and for the past ten or so years, all I have to do is call them, and by the time I arrive home my sukkah is up, lighting and all, and ready to go.
So whenever yom tov appears, its early or late appearance on our calendar notwithstanding, we are ready. If not, we had better get ready with dispatch because, ready or not, here it comes. Yom tov is a great and important time of year. Let’s rise to the occasion and hope and pray for a happy and healthy New Year for all.