Sunday, May 22, 2005

Chanukah 2003

Our Succot holiday was pleasant and relaxing, with a family trip to the Golan, a ema-children trip to the Ma’a lot ice-skating rink (while abba was home, making his famous chili for Shabbat), and an atmosphere of general relaxation and renewal. Building a wobbly succa with a roof that can fly off at the first strong wind is meant to remind us of our reliance on God for protection. But the weather this Succot was excellent, and I can’t say that I gave too much thought to my vulnerability.

That is, until Simhat Torah. I had actually anticipated writing about Simhat Torah. Growing up in Detroit, Simhat Torah meant a few walks around the synagogue “main sanctuary” with an apple stuck to the top of my Hebrew School flag, and I suspect that it’s still that way for many people. Here in Tsfat, as well as in all of Israel, Simhat Torah can be a wild, riotous occasion, with lots of singing, dancing, and, in some shuls, a bit of nipping of the spirits. (OK, more than a bit). I like to go to Berav, which follows the Shlomo Carlebach tradition of davening through joyous song and dance, and the “Hakafot” there on Simhat Torah day usually last until well into the afternoon hours.

However, after Shabbat dinner Friday night, just as I was coming back from my post-dinner walk with Margalit, one of Avishai’s friends came rushing up to the house. Avishai, who usually spends Friday nights sitting out with his friends, had been running on the grass near his B’nei Akiva clubhouse, and had slipped and broken his arm. His friends had already found a car, and within a few minutes, we were on our way down to the hospital. “Oy, aiza bassah” (“what a bummer”) Avishai kept moaning while we waited for a doctor to start the process of x-raying his arm and deciding on the treatment. And then…”I hope that this doesn’t downgrade my profile”. In Israel, when a young man goes into the army, he’s giving a profile number – 100% means that he’s in perfect physical shape, and every physical impairment beyond that downsizes that number. At 64%, one is no longer eligible for a combat unit. Almost every Jewish and Moslem young man starts out with a 97%, since circumsized males are already lacking a certain body part. After that, eye-glasses, flat-feet, asthma…all of those lower the profile, and even before Avishai was given pain-killers, his new profile number was formost on his mind. I tried to comfort him by pointing out that, for the next month or so, his math teacher couldn’t get too upset if he didn’t do his homework.

Friday night is a slow time in the hospital, and within the hour, the doctor had determined that his bones would need to be reset, which would require general anesthesia…something that they couldn’t do 2 hours after a big chili dinner! So Avishai was given a temporary cast and admitted to the hospital, and I was invited to occupy the bed next to him (“why not?” the nurse asked, when I asked if there was a chair near-by. “Make yourself comfortable”).

Avishai had had a pain-killer in the emergency room, so he couldn’t have another one until 4:00a.m., which was keeping us both awake, but at 3:00a.m., I glanced out into the corridor, and saw two of his friends peering into the rooms. “How did they let you into the hospital at this hour” I asked, astonished, while a delighted Avishai proceeded to tell them about his evening. “No big deal” they told me. “The guard is Assi’s brother’s next-door neighbor, and we told him that we’d come down from Kiryat Shmoneh…”

The next morning, while Yoni and I were sitting outside the operating room, reflecting on having missed Simhat Torah festivities, we slowly became aware of activity in the lobby. Dozens of young men and women, along with the chief Rabbi of Tsfat, had come down to the hospital to dance and sing with the Torah for hospital patients and staff. As we watched, the sounds that we expected to hear in shul were spreading throughout the hospital as local Tsfat residents, rabbis, B’nai Akiva youngsters, and even some patients were circling the bima, dancing and singing with as much spirit as could be found in any synagogue in the city.

The operation, thank God, was successful, and after another night in the hospital (“we CAN’T possibly let him out less than 24 hours after a general anesthesia” a startled doctor told me, when I broached the subject of taking Avishai home Saturday night – I actually think that the doctor was offended that I’d suggested it) Avishai arrived home. And I think that the lesson of Succot was not lost on either Avishai or his friends. I certainly gave it a bit more thought.

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