By Hannah Reich Berman
If anyone wants to know when time flies the fastest, I am here to tell you. It is always the two or three weeks before Rosh Hashanah. Pre-Pesach time is a close second in this race, but Rosh Hashanah takes first prize. This is because during the summer, it’s hard to get oneself mentally in gear for a holiday. During July and August we tend to move and even to think in slow motion. These two months are meant for relaxing. And preparing for holidays is anything but relaxing.
Whether it arrives early in September or later in the month, Rosh Hashanah is one chag that always manages to silently sneak up and then jump out at us. And when it does, it speaks to us. It says, “Ready or not, here I come!” Willing time to slow down is ineffective. One day we are at the beach, and the next day we are in the kitchen, up to our elbows in stuffed cabbage.
This year we face the challenge of the dreaded three-day holiday season. That’s just the way it is sometimes. There are always a few yentas who feel the need to become “information central.” These killjoy types delight in ruining what is left of summer fun by informing everyone that “this year, it’s a three-day yom tov.” Some of these town criers like to get the jump on things, so they let everyone know well in advance what to expect. In 2012 they said it in the form of a challenge: “Guess how the holidays come out next year!” Talking to these people is akin to having a conversation with a living, breathing almanac.
It is possible that this might be news to some men, but it is never news to the women. Even without hearing it from someone who wanted to spread the good word, we women knew the score. We are vigilant. What self-respecting balabusta doesn’t check out the date and days of Rosh Hashanah in advance? We all do. And further investigation is unnecessary, because we already know that Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres always fall on the same two days of the week as does Rosh Hashanah. Translation: Each time, we will have three consecutive days of meals to plan for, to shop for, and to cook for. Let the kvetching begin!
Chatter about a three-day holiday has got to be confusing to the uninitiated. It is not hard to imagine a non-Jew asking himself why Jews can’t get it right. A friend of mine, one who is not a member of the tribe, once asked me, “So do you celebrate for two days or for three days—which is it?” She wasn’t being rude; she sincerely wanted to understand. Just for the record, I am among the initiated—I am a member of the tribe—and even I get confused now and then. I have been known to say “Good Shabbos” on yom tov and “Good yom tov” on Shabbos.
I gave my friend the explanation as I understand it, but decided it was best not to provide too many details. I told her that in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days, but the other holidays are not. It’s only outside of Israel that we celebrate all holidays for two days. Trying to make the explanation as brief as possible, I informed her that, originally, as there was no fixed calendar, there was no way to determine in advance the exact day of a coming festival. It was therefore decreed that outside the land of Israel, people would celebrate two days for each festival, just to be sure we got it right.
Fast-forward several thousand years and, even though we now do have a fixed calendar, and we do know the exact date, the two-day tradition continues. We are big on tradition! To sum it all up, once we Jews take on an obligation, we do not give it up. (I may just be a truer Jew than most, because my body does the same thing. Once it takes on weight, it does not relinquish it without a fight. But that’s another story. Right now my focus is on the approaching holidays.) My friend already knew about Shabbos, so it was a quick leap for her to realize that when any holiday falls on a Thursday and Friday, it turns into a three-day event. She was not envious!
The logistics of the aforementioned menu planning, shopping, and cooking are enough of a challenge, but it does not end there. It is refrigeration space, or lack thereof, that drives some of us crazy and is often the bane of the Jewish housewife’s existence. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, this year may be worse than ever for those who once had a spare refrigerator and spare freezer but are currently without those extra appliances. I can relate. The spare fridge and freezer in my basement are missing in action. They floated away on October 29, 2012, and have not been seen or heard from since. In just a few weeks, I will be lighting a yahrzeit candle for each of them.
It was a personal choice not to replace them, but it was not a wise one. In fact, it was a huge mistake. I am not alone. Others made the same choice. Everyone was focused on getting back the essentials: heat and electricity, and then, after the winter, air conditioning. We also had to concentrate on buying new washing machines and dryers, and many of us did not remember the need for spare kitchen appliances. I hope the appliance stores are ready, because this week there could well be a big run on refrigerators and freezers.
As if the three-day holiday scenarios are not enough of a problem, they are also exceptionally early this year. Rosh Hashanah starts two days after Labor Day. This means concerning ourselves with how to dress. Once upon a time, we faced the old “felt hat versus straw hat” debate. Anyone with any fashion sense knew better than to wear straw after Labor Day. Mothers drummed that rule into their daughters’ heads years ago. To do the wrong thing is to unwittingly extend an invitation for a visit from the fashion police, something that no woman in her right mind wants.
The prospect of wearing a winter hat during the heat of September never thrilled anyone, but there were times when we did just that. Years ago, most hat stores offered straw or felt, but little else. And it remained that way until some enterprising souls got wise and began to carry a full line of hats made of fabric. These hats have a name. They are known as “transitional” hats. Amen to that, and bless the souls of those who sell them. From experience, I know that anyone who wears a felt hat in the heat of September is inviting trouble. This happens when a greenhouse environment forms under the hat. It’s great for growing tomatoes and cucumbers, but I have yet to meet someone who wants salad fixings to sprout up along her hairline.
This year, wool suits are out of the question. Lighter fabrics will have to prevail. But fashion dictates that while the weight of the fabric may be light, the color should not. It’s too late for pastels and white, and it’s too early for winter white.
The fashion police are thought by some to be an imaginary cadre of hard-core fashion-conscious females who decide what is correct and what is not. At my age, I pay scant attention to this group. Aging has its benefits. No one looks at what I wear, no one cares, and comfort now comes before style—way before! But rest assured that the fashion police are not an imaginary group. The squads exist. They are in every shul, and they are watching. But they are not watching me. That’s the way it is! v
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.