Well, it was Thanksgiving in America, again.
A friend of mine calls it Shabbos Hodu. (“Shabbos” is the Eastern European version of the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” or Sabbath). “Hodu” is the Hebrew word for both “turkey (the bird)” and the imperative form of one of the many words for “to thank.” Thus, “Shabbos Hodu!”
In Orthodox Judaism there is no “Thanksgiving Day,” because we formally give thanks to God at least six times a day, and sometimes more often.
The three daily prayers, which take up to an hour each, contain 19 paragraphs of blessing. Each of these blessings opens and closes with a verse of thanks. There is a separate blessing expressing thanks in general, and when there is a quorum of ten people, a special very beautiful paragraph is sung that describes the praises of the Angels. There is a verse in every prayer beseeching the Creator to rebuild Jerusalem, our Holy City.
The other three “Thank you’s” are contained in the Blessing After Meals, said after any meal containing more than a certain amount of bread (the exact amount is part of Jewish Law), and a shorter version that is said after eating any non-bread product containing one of the five varieties of grain that grow in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, barley. The long version takes me 45 minutes to say, because I say each word with concentration on its meaning. I learned this from my teachers.
In these prayers also, the rebuilding of Jerusalem figures large. Both sets of prayers were codified while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian conquest had razed Jerusalem.
However, I no longer live in a Jewish community, let alone Israel; and to tell you the truth, I’m not
really practicing Orthodox Judaism these days.
It was so wonderful living in our little country, being able to practice my religion in an unfettered way. We could wear our special religious items–you know, the ones we are prohibited from bringing to the Temple Mount–right in the street, in the buses, anywhere, without people screaming epithets and other unpleasantries.
I once had a conversation with a black woman from New Orleans who had converted to Islam, married a Lebanese man, and moved with him to Saudi Arabia. I met her in India. She wanted to know why we Jews had to have our own country, when we could be Jewish anywhere in the world.
I was so taken aback by this question that I had to sit and think for a minute. At last I got hold of my senses and asked her,
“Were you able to practice Islam in America?”
“Well, of course!”
“Then why did you move to Saudi Arabia?”
“Oh, because it’s an Islamic country! Saudi Arabia enforces strict Shari’a Law, so it is the purest Islam…”
For a moment, understanding dawned in her eyes, but it faded just as quickly. I developed something that needed my urgent attention, and left my friend wondering what went wrong.
Oh yes. I was talking about Thanksgiving in America.
Since I’m in America for the foreseeable future, I am doing some things American style, like Thanksgiving Day and gifts for Hannukah (our Festival of Lights, coming up next week). In Israel, Hannukah is a time for celebrating miracles. Gifts are not really a central theme. It’s all about the light. ( More on that next week.) The American practice of giving gifts on Hannukah seems to have arisen in order to keep Jewish children from being bummed out because of Christmas.
Since my son’s father is Christian, my son goes to him for Christmas. For the past few years, my son and I have been “doing” Thanksgiving together.
While my father was alive, my son would come to my parents’ house and he and I would make a kosher turkey, and we would all get gorked on the usual T-day dishes.
Last year I was still in shock from my father’s death in early October, so my son and his then-girlfriend made a huge feast at his house. People dropped by, roommates who had stayed in town for their own reasons cruised by and partook, we all smoked a lot of weed, and generally had a good time. My mother was not invited, because she has made herself unwelcome by her delight in shaming me in front of my son.
This year my mother decided to fly to my cousins and have Thanksgiving with them. I was not invited. My cousins, who suck up to her for their own reasons, did not invite me either. That being the case, I felt no pangs of guilt when I accepted my son’s invitation, party of one.
Then my mother decided to cancel her Thanksgiving plans, for her own reasons. Since she knew my son had invited me (party of one), she got herself invited to one of her many friends, who has a big family, so my mom could feel really angry that her own family had not invited her.
For some reason my son did not invite anyone else to dinner. His own reasons, I guess. It was
a little weird having just he and I, especially since he was in one of his dark moods, brooding and irritable. I really wish he would start taking lithium again, but he angrily rejects the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder that, in his opinion, was foisted upon him as a teenager.
So that was Thursday.
I slept in my camper van, in the parking lot of his apartment complex. One of his neighbors, who had clearly been watching out for me, accosted me as I headed out to go to bed, demanding to know if I was visiting someone in the complex. Surely he had seen me exiting my son’s door…
My nerves were already frazzled from dinner with my glowering son, so I fired back,
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I think you’re just camping here.” Whoa, let’s just get some holiday spirit of giving on here, hey?
I wanted to say to him, “Listen, Mr. Nice Guy, even if I was ‘just camping here,’ there’s a whole fucking empty parking lot because everyone has gone elsewhere for the holiday. And what are you angry at, anyway?”
But I didn’t say that, because there’s always the possibility that a poor unhappy fucker like that will call the police, and I was already tired and tense enough. So instead I said,
“Well, I am camping here. This (pointing to my camper) is my bedroom. I’m visiting ____ in Apartment _____. Would you like him to come out and speak with you?”
As it turns out, this unfortunate fellow has seen my son, who is a weight lifter and quite muscular and buff. So the sorry sucker subsided, and allowed as how that would not be necessary. I also subsided, went into my spaceship and slept fitfully, as people constantly came and went, car lights and porch lights flashing. My PTSD surrounding cops blazed like a tiger in the night.
Friday. I woke up feeling like shit. Depression. Again. Still.
Went in and stood under my son’s excellent shower for half an hour while he went to work for a while.
When he came back, I said, “Listen, I’m feeling really disorganized brain-wise. Do you mind if I hang out till tomorrow?”
The minute the words left my mouth I saw the twitch in his face that said, Oh No, Not That!
“Um…listen, Mom, to be honest, um, I really need my space.”
My heart hit the pavement. Then I noticed the spiffy outfit.
Yeah, I was glad he was able to tell me no, but on the other hand I wished he had seen fit to be honest and say something more like, “Oh wow, Mom, I really wish you could, but since I thought you were leaving today, I made plans.” That would have sent me off with a smile and a lighter heart.
“Oh, that’s OK,” I chirped, suddenly feeling like I’d been handed the bum rush.*
graciously allowed me to stay long enough to use his internet to find a campground. I found one pretty close by, said my goodbyes, and lit a shuck out of there.**
I called my mother today, just to see how she is doing, and I wish I had put money on the bet that I made with myself. I would have won. She barely spoke to me, and clearly had her victim act all planned out, in case I called. I laughed. Couldn’t help myself: it was all too predictable.
Now for the Miracle part.
My sweet Belgian Malinois, Atina, is most certainly an angel.
She sleeps in the right-hand third of my bed. The left-hand third is reserved for all the computer-related shit that won’t fit anywhere else.
The only thing I had the energy to make for dinner was a cup of gluten-free microwave macaroni and cheese. While I was mechanically going through the motions of making it, Atina was busy doing something in the bed.
She was pushing my duvet into a nest-like shape toward the pillow. No, wait. She was pushing it with her nose, straightening the edge up toward the pillow. I thought, you cutie, you are making yourself a nest out of my duvet, and you know that’s my spot in the bed! But I did not scold her. My heart was brimming with love. She pushed and pulled at my pillow, fluffing it and making it into a nice continuum with my duvet. Aha, I thought, now I will see you plump yourself down in my spot!
But that’s not what she was about at all.
When she got my part of the bed all fixed up to her satisfaction, she plopped herself down–on her side of the bed! She had made my bed up–for me!
I dropped what I was doing and hugged and kissed her for a long time. By the way she reacted, she knew that I knew what she had done for me…she made a place for me to rest. She did it with love and care. As I write this, I am lying in the bed my dog prepared for me. Her breathing is soft and even as she sleeps in her own third of the bed.
“Friends may come and friends may go, but your dog will always be glad to see you.”
*”The bum rush”: A term dating from the Great Depression and possibly earlier, when many out-of-work men went “on the bum,” going from door to door begging for food, money, a place to sleep…if the man of the house took offense, the beggar would be chased off the place–“given the bum rush.”
**”To light a shuck” means “to leave in a hurry.” It has its origin in the Civil War, when dried corn shucks were used as fuses for light cannons and field artillery. Once you “lit a shuck,” you had to run like hell because not only did the big guns recoil (and could run you over), but also sometimes the cannons would backfire, shooting cannon balls behind instead of in front of them. The idiom is still in use in the Southern and Southwestern United States. It is one of my favorites.