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October 20, 2006: I’m Not Weird

Let’s face it, being an Orthodox Jew is pretty weird. I say this with no disrespect intended for the traditions that are thousands of years old and that I believe are a set of rules that our Creator has “chosen” us to follow. But you know, we still do some pretty weird stuff. I just came back from shul after beating a bunch of willow branches into the floor. See what I mean?

When Stella and I were becoming observant, it seemed that the practices just kept getting weirder and weirder. “Oh Rabbi, so I can’t eat that either?…. Oh Rabbi, you mean I can’t take a hot shower for three days?…. Oh, so that’s what the Jacuzzi in the basement of Chabad is for. Thanks for telling me that one Rabbi!”

One year, Stella and I were invited to a Shabbat wedding of two non-Jewish friends that we had actually introduced to each other. They were close friends and really wanted us to be able to go to the wedding. They told us we wouldn’t need to drive anywhere and had even gone ahead and ordered kosher food for us.

But what they could not have realized, (because after all, there is only so much of our weirdness that most people know), is that that particular Shabbat was over Sukkot, when we weird people move out of our homes to live in nice shacks filled with bees.

So what could we possibly do? We borrowed an extra sukkah: frames, walls, skach and all, and drove to the Eastern shore of Maryland. I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring out that we could just set up the sukkah next to the hotel. We would be able to attend a wedding like “normal” people at a fancy, expensive hotel and still be able to follow our revered “weird” practice of living in a hut.

Unfortunately, we hit a great deal of traffic and arrived at the hotel about 15 minutes before Shabbat. The porter asked if we needed help with our bags. I told him no, but we did need his help with something else. Before he had time to think, I started handing him poles from the back of the car. With him getting more confused by the moment, we walked through the lobby and started building my hut outside. As we worked quickly, I explained to him that we were Orthodox Jews, and that the Torah commands us to live in little huts for a week.

He nodded and said he understood but then asked what the rush was. “Oh,” I said, “eh, well, you see, the Torah also commands us not to build these little huts on Friday night and Saturday, so in about 5 minutes, you will have to finish building this on your own.”

Luckily for us, he was amused and appreciative of the large tip I gave him as he unrolled our skach. The next day was very special as the happy couple danced in the ballroom surrounded by relatives and friends, while two weird people sat smiling in a little hut by the hotel’s pool.

Any observant Jew who has lived or traveled in America knows that sometimes our practices just stick out. We are constantly eating tuna out of cans while we can smell fabulous food. We always have to assure people that those strings flying out of our kids pants are there on purpose. We buy nice suits at department stores, but then have to ask someone to rip them open to make sure there is no linen lurking about.

So now we just experienced our second Sukkot in Israel. We did a lot of fun things, but what I really enjoyed is the feeling that for once, we were “normal.” The country was on holiday when in America, only the “weird” people take off. Driving around, you see sukkot all over the place. We visited friends, ate in a restaurant sukka, attended a kite festival, and even visited a park that had a sukka exhibit set up.

So as we get ready to dance around the Bet Knesset tonight carrying scrolls filled with all sorts of divinely commanded strange practices, it’s good to celebrate our special ways in our own special nation. And you know, I am proud of the fact that my kids will grow up thinking that to skip sleeping in a sukka or dancing with a Torah Scroll would be a bit weird.

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