October 11, 2007: Still Weird!

Weirdos to the left of me…

Last year I wrote a column about Sukkot called “I’m not weird.” I wrote about how weird I felt to observe the holiday of Sukkot in the United States. In most “Jewish Orthodox” communities like Potomac, the reality is that the vast majority of people living there are neither Jewish, nor observant. So while you are sitting in a cold, damp hut eating your cereal for a week, your neighbors keep giving you strange looks. You just can’t explain the sukkah, the lulav, the $50 lemon!

So I wrote that in Israel, where we live surrounded by thousands of people building sukkot, where you can buy an etrog for just a few shekels, and where there are hundreds of restaurants that have kosher sukkot, that we felt normal, that we were no longer weird.

I was wrong. We are very weird. The difference is that, we are all weird together, so it seems normal. But as I realized during the special “fun” Simchat Torah davening, we actually are a really, really weird people!

I was told that I really had to go see the “Blessing of the Cohanim” at the Kotel for an incredible experience. People come from all over the world to see this amazing event. I live only 20 minutes from the Kotel, why shouldn’t I go?

So I grabbed my lulav and etrog and headed out. There were so many people coming to see this event, that the police had blocked off all the streets around. I parked far away and walked in, carrying my four species. I loved seeing tens of thousands of people making their way to the wall, it felt like it must have been back when the Temple stood.

As I got closer in, the crowd thickened. I was able to get up the plaza, join a minyan, and daven before the “main attraction.”

When I turned around, people encased us from every side. The temperature got hotter as the time got closer for the famous blessing.

Fifteen minutes to go. Everyone is straining to see the Cohanim. People are pressed up against me, everyone eager to see the Blessing. I heard Hebrew, English, Russian, French, and some languages I did not recognize. Once again, I though how wonderful it was to see something that people had traveled thousands of miles to see.

Ten minutes to go. Man, I wish I had some water. I wish I had some sunglasses. I wish the guys around me had some deodorant. I wish we would get to the “Blessing” before I melted.

Five minutes. Why is the Chazan going so slow? Yeah, I am sure he is the most famous Rav in the world. I am sure he has memorized the Gemorah and can dazzle scholars with his brilliance. But I am hot! I’m dying here! Get to the Blessing already!

Two minutes. Some guy with an Etrog as big as my head squeezes in next to me. No one would think that was a lemon. Meanwhile, my lulav has just wilted in the heat. Did you know, that even a nice day can reach over 1,000 degrees when thousands of hot sweaty people are pushed up against you?

Finally, the moment is at hand. The moment we have all been waiting for. The moment that tens of thousands have traveled from all over the world to see. The moment I was told I had to see to get the “ultimate Sukkot experience.”

And as the Cohanim start to make the blessing, WE ALL LOOK DOWN AT THE GROUND! That’s right, no one is supposed to look directly at the Cohanim during the blessing. I have just lost ten pounds in sweat joined by thousands and thousands to spend thirty wonderful seconds looking at our shoes and listening to the blessing over a speaker.

Yeah, we’re weird. We are a weird nation. Ain’t it great!

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