By Hannah Reich Berman
This is the time of year when we get to live with a blighted local landscape, due to the many “VOTE FOR _____” signs that every candidate for office sets out. In early October, the red, white, and blue signs appear on front lawns, street corners, and every ten feet along main thoroughfares such as Peninsula Boulevard, Woodmere Boulevard, and Branch Boulevard. The election took place in early November, but the signs will remain in place for a while. Only the ones placed on people’s front lawns will be taken away—by the homeowners themselves, no doubt. Chances are that these signs are costly. But once the election is over, nobody seems interested in retrieving them. So they often sit there until the start of the “holiday season.” Eventually they will be collected.
The holiday season for me and for my crowd has passed. It was Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. The origin of the word holiday is from the Old English word haligdæg, which meant holy day. Despite the fact that most people think of a holiday as a time of fun and happiness, it did not start out that way. By now, the word has two meanings; it means a holy day to some, and a day of fun and frivolity to others. Clearly the two are not interchangeable. While the holiday of Yom Kippur is a holy day, it sure is not a time of fun. Orthodox Jews don’t normally refer to Rosh Hashanah and the other holidays that follow as “holiday time” or “holiday season.” We stick to what our parents taught us. We refer to this month-long period as “the yomtovim” (or the more grammatically correct yamim tovim). But however one chooses to say it, we are now two months past them, and they are but a distant memory.
The non-Jewish holiday season, as it is known, refers to Thanksgiving, Xmas, and New Year’s. Some among us refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving because it is said to have originated from paganism and can be traced back to the Greek and Roman harvest festivals. Whatever it is—or was—it is no longer that. Possibly the origin of the day is unimportant, since it long ago morphed into something different: a day that is celebrated here in North America as a time to gather with family and friends to give thanks for the many blessings enjoyed by all nations and their citizens. That sounds good to me!
Unfortunately, even that meaning has gotten lost somewhere along the way to some people, and Thanksgiving became just another day for huge meals, dinner parties, get-togethers, or reunions. But whether or not one chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving, we for sure do not celebrate Xmas. It is a strictly goyishe (non-Jewish) day. I, however, am an exception. I may be the only observant Jew who loves the approach of Xmas. Not only am I happy for my many Christian friends who love this time of year, but I appreciate the December holiday for another reason: it is the only time during the year that I can get even with my sanitation men! After all, they don’t expect anything at Rosh Hashanah. So my time has come!
It is raining as I write this, which is the reason that Xmas is on my mind. Today’s rain is not light, nor, according to the forecast, does it promise to be brief. It is not a shower or a little sprinkle. It is a heavy downpour that the weatherman has predicted will continue for the entire day. Knowing what I know, which is that my sanitation men never replace lids, I had to run out in this downpour as soon as I heard the motor of their truck and the easily distinguishable noise of the garbage being compacted into the rear of the truck. Had I not run outside to replace the lids, the pails would have been at least half-filled with rainwater by the end of the day. Not to mention the lids, which have a concave underside, and would also have collected a great deal of water.
Three times a week, three men drive down my street in a sanitation truck. The driver remains at the wheel of the truck while the other two, who ride standing up and hanging on to the sides of the vehicle, make the collections. I did not actually see them today, but chances are they sat inside the truck with the driver. These characters, who don’t know enough to replace a lid onto a garbage can, at least know enough to come in out of the rain.
In the days and weeks before Xmas, mail carriers, doormen, hairdressers, and manicurists hope for a thank-you in the form of a gift. And most of them deserve one. Why my garbage collectors expect anything from me I have no idea. I also do not care. They will get nothing from me. We refer to what we give as a “gift,” but it is not a tie, a scarf, or a pair of gloves that people want. What everyone hopes for is a gift of cold, hard cash. For years I did just that. I handed out envelopes of cash. But that stopped years ago when I promised myself never to give this trio of sanitation men anything ever again. My vow was made one summer day when I had had enough! As I attempted to turn over a lid that was lying on the ground and filled with rainwater, the water splashed all over my feet. I was wearing sandals at the time. That did it for me.
But it didn’t work that way with my late husband, Arnie. Maybe because he never wore sandals. Hubby was a softie. He felt we should tip people, even these people. I disagreed, so the result was that I had to be on the lookout. I watched Hubby like a hawk to make sure he did not give a dime to these guys. The major problem stemmed from the fact that in the days and weeks before the holiday, suddenly all lids were placed back on the pails. And, just as mysteriously, at this time, no refuse was ever left strewn on the ground! The same two guys who never so much as glanced in my direction from January through mid-November were suddenly smiling when they saw either of us. The smiles charmed Hubby. But not me! Chances are that he got by me. My guess is that there were times when I let down my guard and he managed to slip a few dollars to this crew.
Hubby has been gone for five years. Since then, many changes have taken place. One of them is that, since 2009, no envelope has passed from my hands to the hands of my sanitation men. Occasionally I think that maybe, because it was something that Hubby would have done, I should relent and give these guys a holiday gift. So far I never have. This might have been the year that I weakened, but after I got soaked this morning thanks to them, my resolve has stiffened once again. They may still collect my garbage three times a week, but they will never collect another dollar from me.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.
By Hannah Reich Berman