Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dear Readers,

Please find a story for Succos that I hope will be published by Aish.com

The richness of Jewish life had somehow eluded me

in my childhood. I was left so unschooled that I could not

distinguish between Shabbos and Shavuos or differentiate a

siddur from a chumash. However, as little background as I had

had, my youth was not entirely barren of Jewish experiences.

We gathered at my Aunt Iris and Uncle Marvin’s house for our

one seder on the Eve of Passover, knew enough to eat matzoh,

read the story of our exodus in the “Haggadah shel Maxwell

House,” feasted on Rosh Ha Shanah and broke the fast of Yom

Kippur. I recall fondly how my mother “lit Hanukkah candles” by

plugging in an electric menorah. No brachos, no songs, we didn’t

know any. In other words, my childhood did not lack the threads

so much as it did the fabric of Jewish life.

Many years later, my wife, children and I moved into West

Rogers Park, an orthodox neighborhood on Chicago’s far north

side. My Jewish identity although thoroughly secular in nature,

slowly began to awaken to the “segula” of Jewish religious

tradition, but it was not until after I had attended the

Goldmeyers’ bar mitzvah of their first-born son, that I became

aware of some of what I had missed in my childhood.

While I delighted in walking to an orthodox shul for the first

time together with many of my neighbors on the Shabbat morning

of the bar mitzvah, my anxiety-together with an equal measure

of intimidation-gave rise to a classic case of the butterflies. My

feelings were borne out when the seeming mayhem of orthodox

shul dynamics swallowed me up. In short, I was clueless. Taking a

seat as far back as I could, I opened a siddur and found Hebrew

text only, much to my dismay. With both seats on either side of

me occupied, I placed it on the floor under my chair.

No sooner had I done so that the gentleman, seated to my

right, reached under my chair and retrieved the mislaid siddur.

“This is yours?” he asked, waving it gently but a bit too closely in

front of my nose.

“Well, I … uh,” I stumbled inarticulately, feeling guilty but unsure

of the charge.

“This book contains G-d’s name. We do not put it on the floor,” he

said with a gentle reproach.

“Thank you,” I whispered, grateful he had been discrete.

“No offense taken, a gentle slap on the wrist was all it was,” I

reassured myself.

Though I hadn ’t even begun in earnest to trod the path of

religious observance, I was confident I would learn the ropes in

time. For the time being, I would remain what I thought was the

quintessential Jewish outsider. However, having gotten my feet

wet in shul that Shabbos morning, I soon found myself immersed

in a sink or swim situation.

It was the early afternoon of Shabbos Chol Ha Moed Succos

when- while reading on my back porch with my feet perched atop

the railing-that I happened to look up momentarily to espy my

neighbor Rabbi Twersky walking through the alley. Donning a

double-breasted black kaftan and streimel, but appearing

troubled by the way he was fiddling with his peyos, I would

never have imagined it.

“He’s coming over here,” I muttered in disbelief.

I watched as he entered through my back gate. Nearly

falling backwards off my chair, I alighted and flew down the back

porch steps to greet him.

“Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi,” I said, extending my hand in

Shabbos courtesy but feeling somewhat annoyed with myself for

not wearing as much as a baseball cap. “Then again, better that he

should see me as I really am without any pretense of observance,”

I reasoned.

“Good Shabbos. Mr. Busch, I have a problem,” he confided in

me. “Rabbi Twersky has a problem and he’s coming to me,’” I

thought to myself, more than slightly bewildered.

“Uh … how can I help you, Rabbi?” I offered.

“Some sechach has fallen from the roof of my sukkah, but I

am forbidden to touch it on Shabbos,” he said, tilting his streimel

back from his forehead.

“Some what?” I asked.

“Sechach, an evergreen branch,” he clarified.

“Oh no problem, Rabbi. I’ll pick it up,” I said.

“No, he exclaimed. “You are a Jew. You may not touch it


“Oh wow! Okay,” slightly taken aback by his vehemence,

though flattered he had acknowledged me as a Jew.

“I’ll take care of the problem, Rabbi,” I assured him. Turning

away, I ran up the steps, paused on the first landing and saw his

countenance had brightened noticeably. He left through the same

gate secure, it seemed, in my promise. Unbeknownst to Rabbi

Twersky was that Tom, a gentile workman, was reglazing the

bathtub in my apartment.

“Uh, Tom, d’ya have a minute?”

“Sure. What’s up?” wiping away an errant bead of perspiration.

Without the halachic knowledge to fashion a suitable

explanation, I asked Tom if he wouldn’t mind lending a hand.

“No problem,” he said. “I’m glad to help out.”

Worried Rabbi Twersky would disapprove should he learn I was

employing Tom on Shabbos, I felt a sense of dread when standing

outside the entranceway to his sukkah. I took a deep breath and


The scent of an esrog permeated the tabernacle. Gourds and

dried fruit dangled overhead. Portraits of aged rabbinic sages

aside childish depictions of the Kotel enhanced the otherwise

drab blue plastic interior. The “ushpizin” bid us feel at home. Bent

over a Talmudic folio sat Rabbi Twersky whose glasses had

slipped to the tip of his nose.

“Rabbi, this is my friend Tom.”

“Boruch Ha Shem,” he exclaimed with a broad smile.

“Bruchim habayim. Uh … welcome!” shot out the translation.

“That’s the one there,” I said to Tom who, using a folding chair,

replaced the errant branch atop the latticework.

“Okay, got it,” Tom announced proudly.

“Boruch Ha Shem,” rejoiced Rabbi Twersky who at that precise

moment reminded me of his five-year old son Sholem to whom,

along with other neighborhood kids, I used to read stories on

Shabbos afternoons.

The following morning, my neighbors hastened to celebrate

Hoshana Rabba. Watching them clutch their “arba minim” on their

way to shul, I recalled: “No! You are a Jew. You may not touch it

either” and realized then I had already found my own “pri etz


Alan D. Busch
Revised 9/18/07


Smooth said...

Once again, your excellent writing wrangles my heartstrings. May you have an easy fast.

Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Smooth,

Thank you for your time, interest and kind words.

May you and you family be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

I am,

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch