The first evening of Sukkot I prayed at the Western Wall. This was the first Sukkot where I lived in Jerusalem. My apartment was only a 20 minute walk from the Kotel. The Western Wall Plaza was packed with black clad Jews. As I made my way through the crowd of black, I was wondering, whose brilliant idea was it to make the color black the sole color of our religiosity? It is a commandment on Sukkot to be “ach sameach” (only happy). Wouldn’t it be more conducive to this commandment of happiness if we were to wear festive colors and not the colors of a funeral? Why the monotony? Why choose the darkest color? Aren’t we supposed to be a light to the nations? Black hats, black suits. I am swimming in a sea of black.
Although my apartment is only 5 minutes from the Old City walls, I am the only one on my street to build a sukkah (hut), with the exception of a couple of restaurants. My apartment complex is quite large, it takes up about half the street called Coresh. The many tenants are mostly made up Jewish college students and African refugees. Very few Jewish families live here.
One exception of a Jewish family besides myself and my family was Eliezer and his wife and two young children. Eliezer is a very tall and big man and is a “baal tshuva” (born-again Jew) and therefore always wearing the standard black garbs.
He makes talk with me in front of my sukkah. It was difficult to follow him because my Hebrew is not good and he slurs in his speech. He wants to inspire me with his near death experiences.
He tells me that he was once a criminal. His partners in crime turned on him and beat him to death. In his death state he met his dead uncle. His uncle convinced him that his ways were wrong and that he should do “tshuvah” (repentance). Eliezer agreed that this was the way to go and he awoke from a coma in the hospital. He recovered but tshuva, he did no make. Instead, he went on with his criminal ways.
Sometime after, he was beaten to death again and this time they finished him off by running him over with a car. Eliezer pays another visit to his dead uncle and is given the same message of tshuvah. This time after recovering the repentance took, making him the black clad man towering over me. His slurred speech was evidence of his trauma.
I asked him what was it like in “olam haba” (heaven). He said it was a world of light and here we live in darkness.
Eliezer said that olam haba is a world of truth. Here we live in a world of lies.
I wondered why would anyone come back to a world of lies. But I didn’t ask that. Instead I said the reason that I don’t make tshuvah is because the lifestyle seems needlessly burdensome, restrictive and oppressive.
He answers me in a metaphor. He said it was like the sea.
Sea? How did he know I was thinking of the sea. The black sea.
He continued, if you look from above at the sea, all you see is monotonous blue. But if you dive into the sea you will see many different plants and animals of all wild and weird shapes and colors. So too with Judaism. If you look from afar you see monotony, only when one fully immerses one’s self does the self experience all of the complex and diverse flavors and colors.
I find this metaphor very attractive. Especially since he tuned in to the sea which was on my mind. It seemed heaven sent. So I tried very hard to ward off my cynicism. But I couldn’t kill it. I imagined myself stranded in the middle of the sea. There was only a matter of time before I would become the food of these colorful creatures inside the sea. And just like that, I killed an otherwise beautiful metaphor.
Two days before Yom Kippur I was slated to be one of the performers in a stand up comedy show in English, in Jerusalem. No one was showing up for the show. Last show we had a month before this one we had around 15-20 people which is a wanted amount of people for this small club that maxes out at 40 maybe 50 people. I did pretty well that last show and this show I prepared a set that I thought was better. The three other comedians and I waited for 40 minutes and finally salvation comes in the form of three young women. Two are from America, one from Denmark. I’d say they were in their mid to early 20s. The Danish lady’s English was lacking. The two American ladies were super-sized.
Yeah, I said it. I have nothing against fat people. I could stand to lose some weight myself. I understand the struggle. I’m good with obesity as long as it is framed as a struggle. When it becomes framed as a healthy, norm, then I get aggressive. You shouldn’t be ashamed of being fat. But you should be ashamed of blatant, over-indulgent behaviors. Do such behaviors because you can’t help yourself but don’t act like stuffing your face with way too much crap is a good thing to do.
That’s what got me when one of the roundies announced that they were late because they were eating at Black Burger and that we comedians had better be funny.
Fine, you stuffed your faces with 18 dollar hamburgers. You did that. But you loudly announce it to the entire room just as proudly as you would announce that you just came back from working out at the gym? No! Not acceptable.
If you are fat, do not ever go to Black Burger. It’s in the name. Black flag, black plague, black cancer. If Black Burger called renamed themselves as “Don’t Eat Here You Stupid Fat Fucks”, two out of three of our audience members would say to themselves “ooh, those hamburgers sound tasty. I’d spend 50 dollars for a hamburger like that.”
The two fatties got me to think about the conditions of the fat American Jews as a whole. This comedy performance has been abandoned but so too has the entire state Israel been abandoned by the American Jews for the most part. They’ve abandoned their homeland in favor of fatness. And the results are in. Most American Jews will assimilate out. We’ve already lost millions of Jews in America. More millions than the 6 we lost in the German Holocaust. And we still stand to lose millions more in this American Holocaust of comfort.
I had a bad set, too much anger and disappointment. A comedian after me kept repeating “it doesn’t matter about the quantity of people, it matters only the quality.” I didn’t buy this either. The two Black Burger eaters were mostly scrolling and tapping on their cellphones. English was a struggle for the Danish girl. Sometimes you get neither quantity nor quality.
Back to the Sukkot holiday. The family and I were heading out to make a little excursion. As we distanced ourselves from our sukkah I see a black man taking interest in my temporary dwelling. I say black man because I am racist. His blackness might have been the first thing I saw. If not simultaneously, then immediately after his blackness, I saw the whiteness of his kippah (skullcap) and tallit (prayer shawl). He was holding on to arbat minim (ritural vegetation). No suspicions in me were aroused, I immediately thought he was looking for a sukkah to do a blessing in or he was just curious. I shouted to him, “Ata tzarich sukkah?” He answered in an American English accent, “What?” He didn’t look like an Ethiopian Jew, he was too tall and broad shouldered. With his muscular build, I allow him to eat at Black Burger. I switch to English, “Do you need a sukkah?” He answered in an over-friendly tone, “No, no, I’m good, thanks.” We weren’t in the position to engage in conversation, so that was the end of the exchange. He went his way, we went ours.
I take the commandment of dwelling in the sukkah seriously. My wife, who usually is very apprehensive, was a trooper about sleeping in the sukkah. I told her that we will take it one night at a time and see how it goes. If there are any tell signs of what we are doing in inherently dangerous, we’ll take the two kids, pillows and blankets and finish the remainder of the night inside our apartment. We made it to night six.
Four in the morning, I was awoken by the pain of my full bladder. The pressure was too great to ignore so I made my way to the apartment for relief. There are a half of a flight of stairs in the courtyard to get to the apartment. On those stairs sat three hunched, hooded people. They looked like pods. As I got closer, I saw two of the pods were female, one male and their hands wrapped around their folded knees revealed that they were black. I had to weave through them to make my way up the stairs. When I got close to the male pod, he activated, opening his white angry and fearful eyes behind his hooded dark face. He immediately reaches for his pocket. This was a grab for his knife or his cellphone. Either are reasonable assumptions. I instinctively showed him my two hands empty and say to him a series of “hey’s” to assure him that I did not come to harm, only passing through. I kept going past him and he never got up from his sitting position.
I went to my apartment to do my duties. I knew I couldn’t just stay in the apartment. It was the night of shabbat and I didn’t think it was a life or death matter to call the police. I took my pocket knife and my cellphone, which was turned off and left to return to the sukkah to watch over my wife and two children.
Passing over the three pod people, the dude’s head pops up again. I don’t understand him, he’s waving his arms in signals to get off his property. I make pointing signals of where I would like to be headed. Again, he never gets up from his sitting position.
I’m laying in the sukkah with my eyes wide open staring at the black sky. One hand ready to activate the cellphone, the other hand on the pocket knife. I waited for the skies to turn to morning and then I allowed myself to go back to sleep.
The morning breakfast, the tale of hours previous were told to my wife among other chit-chats. Only after living out in the open like this did we realize to what extent was our street was inhabited by African “refugees”. The building we live in stretches down half a block. There is an entire sub-level that was built for storage space. There the African refugees lived packed many in small spaces.
It was decided that we would not sleep the seventh night in the sukkah and that we were probably crazy for doing it this long. Then a shadow in the form of a crouched man forms on the nylon canvas walls of my sukkah. The figure is on his knees crawling. It makes its way to the opening of the sukkah which was cinched shut with a clamping devise. I see his eyes through the crevice and I start to shout, “hey, what’s going on?”
He says in his broken Hebrew that he is looking for his earphones. I go along with his thread start searching around for him, we found nothing. He went on his way.
Some minutes later, we hear the schach (roof of sukkah made of palm branches) make a distinct and loud ruffle sound. Almost violent. It didn’t arouse panic from us. One irate black man, (different from the man who lost his earphones) makes himself known through the opening of our sukkah (now unclamped). Before he could express himself fully, another black man yanks him away followed by another six strangling black men that walk away. One of the guys said ‘slicha’ (sorry) as he walked off.
My wife and I don’t have a clue what this is all about.
Then I smelled urine and after we finished breakfast we discovered that this irate black man peed on the walls of our sukkah as we were eating breakfast.
Cleaning the urine with buckets of water with bleach, we also found two vomit piles close to where the pod people were sleeping.
What the hell was going on in the open courtyard attached to the open street in our thin veiled sukkah? What was the motivation behind the urine attack? Does he think I stole someone’s earphones? Did my sukkah position disturb some sort of prostitution operation? Was he just drunk, early in the morning and not realize that he was peeing on a family having breakfast? There’s no communication between us and them. Pick a language, we don’t share it.
The seventh night of Sukkot, we stayed in our apartment. I was very upset not being able to complete the full seven days of sleeping in the sukkah. This seventh night two Jews were stabbed to death in cold blood in the Old City. This attack turned out to be the official beginning of the Knife Intifada. Now the entire city felt as unsafe as I already felt thanks to my African “refugee” neighbors.
I was trying to relax in my hammock in the balcony when I heard loud and many voices from the street below. I looked out of the window and saw hundreds of Jews marching and chanting in anger over the terrorist attack hours earlier. I found their anger extremely appropriate. In fact, their anger brought me joy. I’m not on their side when they shout ‘Death to Arabs’, but I don’t let it ruin an otherwise righteous indignation. Anger shouldn’t be the default reaction but when we are constantly being attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails with no real answers from our police and Army, there comes a time when enough is enough. That was most definitely this time. And when anger comes, it’s not always going to be as rational as we all would like. If it was completely rational, it wouldn’t be anger. Without this anger, our security policies would have never have been amped up.
I ran down to meet up with the hundreds of angry youths. When the shouts came to “Death to the Arabs” I and others steered them to “Death to the terrorists” instead. The mob mentality came up with a brilliant idea of taking their anger to where the Arabs lived in East Jerusalem around Damascus gate. This was only a five minute walk from where we were gathered.
I am pretty familiar with my angry brothers. They are young, soft and short. They have no experience in physical violence. I’m actually shocked that they are taking to the notions of marching to the Arab neighborhood seriously. I was further shocked when they actually made the march. I went along. I knew that these kids didn’t have it in them to do any damage. I wanted to see where this was going.
When we got to their neighborhood there wasn’t an Arab out, not even in their cars. They shut themselves in their houses. This I also didn’t expect. I figured the Arab population would love this opportunity to swallow three hundred yeshiva students. There was some police presence but not enough to protect us if the Arabs decided to match our numbers. This could have been a real mess.
Besides me, there was another elder exception and he was shouting that we need to build a huge wall where we were standing and never let the Arabs out on our side. I thought to myself, great, build the wall and I’ll be stuck with even more African “refugees” peeing on my sukkah.
Am I racist? Perhaps. But why do I not have any of these resentments when it comes to Ethiopian Jews? For the most part Ethiopian Jews came here to be Jews. I have nothing but love for them. I had nothing but love when I saw the African American man that was wearing a kippah and tallit inspecting my sukkah. His intentions are clear. Not only clear but inspiring. He only wants to be a brother. He is a brother.
Do I hate Arabs? Maybe, in a way, but not because of their skin color. There were many Jews protesting with me that night that were just as dark as any Arab and I couldn’t have felt closer to these Jews.
The center of the eye is the black pupil. Black is where the light comes in. May we all live with our eyes open and not shut.