By Hannah Reich Berman
We finally got out of December, the month when news announcers are obsessed with busy days and which days are the busiest. This is an annual obsession that begins in early November and the foremost reports are about the busiest shopping day. It used to be the day after Thanksgiving, but since many of the large retail stores remained open on Thanksgiving Day, the next day was not as busy as it once was. This year, announcers let us know that the Saturday before X-mas was the busiest shopping day. There is always more to this type of reporting. There was the busiest day for sending mail, the busiest day for sending packages, the busiest day for air travel, and the busiest day for automobile travel. We heard about the busiest airports and the busiest highways, and on and on it went. I question how the busiest days impact on anyone’s life. Everyone does what he has to do whether it’s a busy day or not. And my second question: is any of the hype true? How do they know which days are the busiest for certain activities?
Is someone standing along the side of highways and byways across the country to count the number of cars that pass by? And are some people selected to hang out in post offices for the sole purpose of counting the number of envelopes that come in and go out? Both of those scenarios are unlikely, yet somebody is always reporting that one day is the busiest for one thing or another.
It is not that I am insensitive to the plight of others, but I have a hard time being sympathetic since most of the world has a single busy season that begins sometime in November and ends at the end of December, while the members of our tribe are blessed with several busy seasons. We are still deep in the throes of winter, which means that spring is not far behind. And Jewish housewives know that as soon as we segue into February, the fun will begin. Busy is when a mom tries desperately to procure the costume that her kid insists upon wearing on Purim. And in between the costume hunt, she will be elbow-deep in flour in an attempt to turn out a respectable amount of hamantaschen. And that is the easier of the spring holidays. Not long after that, we celebrate Pesach and, for that holiday, there are no words that can adequately describe how busy a person can be.
We don’t actually shop in supermarkets—we grab! Food is snatched off shelves with lightning speed as housewives try to stock up on supplies for anywhere between six and nine meals. The exact number of meals depends on whether it will be a two-day or three-day yom tov. Non-members of the tribe cannot possibly comprehend the logistics of shopping, cooking, and preparing for the number of meals we will sit down to over a holiday. How could they? We do it and sometimes even we cannot comprehend it! There are no one-course meals, and there is the added conundrum of how much matzah to buy and how much wine to order. Since each person is obligated to consume four cups of wine, it makes perfect sense, in the mind of a hostess, that each one should have the wine that he will enjoy. Factoring in that there are often upwards of 20 people at a Seder, it is easy to see how complicated this can be. For adults we need to know which type of wine each one prefers, and for the younger kids, it’s grape juice. Lest anybody think that grape juice is simple—it is not! Some kids only drink the dark juice and others like the light.
As there is no way to explain what it means to ‘turn over’ a kitchen from chametz to Pesach, I will just skip that and invite anyone who does not understand what goes on to slip silently into a Jewish household and watch. And before we even get to that point, females need to deal with shopping for clothing, both for themselves and for their children. This is important, because G-d forbid we should enter into a holiday and not have new clothes.
We get a brief respite from April until the end of August, and then it begins again because those are the days and weeks preceding Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeres. Just calculating how many challahs to buy or bake is a huge stressor. Sometimes it will be a two-day holiday (a gift to the overworked housewife), but other times it is a three-day siege, which means three extra meals.
In our world, it is impossible to single out any one day as the busiest. So we don’t even bother. Even if we wanted to let the rest of the world know about our plight, we have no spokesperson to do it. But when I hear about the stress and pressure that people have to deal with for their December holidays, I cannot help but think that they don’t know just how easy they have it. A Jewish housewife, particularly one known as a balabusta, could prepare for a one-day holiday with one hand tied behind her back.
It does not end with our spring and autumn celebrations. We get to share in busy times with the rest of the world during the winter as well. In December we have Chanukah to keep us on our toes. Gifts are a big issue and, given the choice of buying one gift for several people or selecting several gifts (eight to be specific) for each child, I think Jewish parents might just have the more difficult job. And for grandparents it can be even harder. We don’t generally give eight gifts, but even selecting just one gift to please a kid these days can present a true challenge, because the days when a Chanukah present meant spending $5 or $10, or even $25 or $50, are history. Actually, those days could qualify as ancient history. Many years ago I would buy toys, games, and puzzles for my children and they were happy with everything they got. And I couldn’t miss. But today, unless we are buying for infants and toddlers, a kid might look at the gift-giver in astonishment if the offering is anything less than a high-tech product. Monopoly, Parcheesi, Barbie dolls, and G.I. Joes have been replaced by iPods, iPads, Kindles, and the ever popular iPhones, to name just a few. My grandchildren left me behind in the dust long ago when they began talking about things like Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Back then, I did not know what half of those things were. Let me be honest—I still do not know what they are. But there is good news afoot because I learned a valuable lesson. I figured out that cash is king. And once I got the point, my gift-giving became a lot simpler. So gift-giving has become easier, but that is about all that is. Our holidays are many, and so many of our days are busy that there is no possibility of classifying any one of them as the busiest. That’s just 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.