Autumn Yartzeitby Andrea Simantov September 26, 2018
As we used to say growing up in suburban New Yawk, “We didn’t know from nothin!” Translated, this means that we’d hadn’t heard of a holiday called Sukkot and never imagined that affluent Jews would erect mini-huts in their manicured gardens for a week of outdoor camping just as the weather was growing colder. Meshugenah Jews? Proof positive.
After the defensive 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out, my avowedly secular father, a real ‘religion-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses’ guy, took to building a sukkah in our very visible corner yard. It was humiliating for my siblings and me. Daddy’s behavior was an amalgam of pride and rage and frequently in the school cafeteria, my classmates questioned his aberrant challenge of the white-bread societal norm. Dad was already a vegetarian and avid jogger before the sixties was out. He was a WWII vet, passionately patriotic, and had been awarded the Purple Heart for valor. But after ‘73, his Jew-mania was front-and-center. “What is your family? Orthodox???” the cheerleaders queried. More accusation than question, I shrank from the shame of being so ethnic! What was the point of straightening both hair and teeth and wearing penny-loafers if my father sported a Tevye-the-Milkman beard and wore a skullcap?
The oddest part was, he wasn’t Sabbath observant. He was not interested in the laws of kashrut nor did he attend synagogue at any time other than the High Holy Days. And he drove there. My father’s religion was one of defiance and a fury born of the Jewish importance displayed during our imprisonment under Pharaoh, Achashverosh’s Persian reign, the moxie of Antiochus, Hellenic conversions, Inquisition and Crusades, blood-libels, Lithuanian pogroms, the Arab massacre of Hebron in 1929, the unimpeded rise of Hitler and, finally, Jews being beaten on the streets of Ocean Hill/Brownsville, Brooklyn. My father was one angry-yid and he ultimately morphed into an activist, the words ‘Never Again’ seared into his psyche.
For his children, however, the timing was most socially inconvenient. “Hey, Andie, wasn’t that your father on the news last night getting arrested?” Along with other protesters, he’d chained himself to the fence of the Russian Consulate, demanding the release of Soviet refusniks. Another time Mom was frantic because, decades before the cell-phone, he hadn’t come home from work at his regular time because he’d spent the afternoon and evening guarding elderly Jews as they wobbled back and forth between their now fortified, low-income apartments and the corner bodega. Each May 14 he hung a bus-sized Israeli-flag outside of the front window. We were shlepped to the Salute to Israel Parade where he marched with other grown men wearing speckled camouflage pants and black-leather boots. My face burned crimson.
Always daddy’s little girl, in time I became my father’s daughter. Fulfilling his dream, I moved to Israel, the only Jewish country in the world. I was blessed with six children and often think that each one represents a million of our people who were slaughtered by the Nazis. My girls did National Service and I’ve had sons in the Israeli Army. With the birth of each of my fifteen grandchildren, I weep and remember the lessons of my father.
Most fittingly, he died on the first intermediate day of Sukkot. Obscure and odd like him, the holiday is a humbling recognition of our fragility and reliance on Divine intervention. Material acquisitions might con us in believing that we’re protected from the elements and humanly imposed evil, but dwelling for eight days in a sukkah with stars twinkling between bamboo slats reminds us that we are not in charge.
Last month we implored our G-d in Heaven to shower us with His merciful kindnesses. Sukkot acknowledges that these were not fickle prayers but, rather, represent deepening wisdom and faith.