a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Jewish Holiday Season

Posted on: September 22, 2010

an amazing sukkah from nyc’s sukkah city in union square

For an ex-Fashion Retailer, like me,  “Holiday Season” started about a month ago.  Towards the end of August retail managers start gearing up for Holiday.  It’s the bread and butter of most retail businesses in the United States and if you’re lucky enough to work retail in Manhattan it’s even more important.  If you’re even luckier, and get to work in Rockefeller Center, with the giant tree that draws in millions of people each day for over a month, like I did-it’s where you bank your entire year’s net worth.  It becomes this insane and all-consuming race to the finish line that is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and the entire month of December.

After December 25th you hold your breath for one last hurrah that is Boxing Day and you keep your fingers crossed that the bank you made in December will carry you through the hump that is January.  At the end you’re exhausted, you’re cranky, you’ve probably lost about 10 lbs running around and gained 15 eating in excess at odd hours of the night and drinking until you can’t see the bottle of wine in front of you.

As an ex-Christian there is an interesting dichotomy of the realization that Christmas is one of the two major religious holidays, it’s the birth of Jesus.  What parallels this event is the scenario I wrote about above.  There are a few zealous Christians with their “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” motto that fervently remind others that Christmas is about a miracle child, not Santa and presents.  Still, most of those Jesus is the Reason for the Seasoners exchange presents disregarding it’s pagan routes.  Don’t you dare mention that we Jews have Chanukkah and it’s the same because it’s not.  Chanukkah isn’t a major holiday, and it only came to be as such to keep up with Christmas…that’s another post.

As a Jew-in-Training, I’ve discovered that we’re deep in Holiday Season.  Passover, the Seder and the fasting is definitely a big one but in terms of the closeness of time, the month of Elul and the holidays that follow feel like Jewish Holiday Season to this New Jew.

Leviticus, which is in the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian Bible, is where all of the rules are set out.  The rules of kashrut, the rules of sacrifice, even rules for dealing with a leper or a woman who’s menstruating can be found there.  It’s also where Hashem tells the people of Israel when they should celebrate festivals.  Specifically Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, the holiday that starts tonight at sundown.

23:23.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:24.     Speak to the Israelite people thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts.

23:25.     You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD.

23:26.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:27.     Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the LORD;

23:28.     you shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the LORD your God.

23:29.     lndeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day shall be cut off from his kin;

23:30.     and whoever does any work throughout that day, I will cause that person to perish from among his people.

23:31.     Do no work whatever; it is a law for all time, throughout the ages in all your settlements.

23:32.     It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall observe this your sabbath.

23:33.     The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

23:34.     Say to the Israelite people:

On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the LORD, [to last] seven days.

interior of a large sukkah

In nearly every one of my books I’ve read that Sukkot, like Shabbat, is a time when you’re supposed to welcome a stranger.  The Sukkah, or booth, is erected and the family is supposed to not only eat and drink and “live” within it, they’re supposed to invite friends, neighbors, and strangers to do so as well.

Yesterday, while walking down the streets of Flatbush/Ditmas Park/Midwood with our lesbian friends from Portland, we saw dozens of sukkahs in the fronts and backs of homes.  I did my best to tell them about their purpose and the holiday and as we passed them.  I noticed the home owners who were working on the Sukkahs divert their eyes, went inside their sukkah, or walk into their homes as we passed.  Apparently our gang of rag-tag lesbian blackness was too much?  On Avenue K and 14th I approached an Estrog vendor and asked, “How much for an Estrog set?”  He responded, “They’re for the Jewish Holidays”  Hmmm, I didn’t say, “what is that funny-looking citrus fruit”, I asked how much they were, hadn’t I?  I told him I knew  what they were used for and asked again for the price.  He told me $25.  I declined, stepped away, and waited for my friends who were in Glatt Market getting some snacks.  A woman wearing a wig and donning a long skirt asked him the price.  $15 for her.

This man looked Sephardi, the woman appeared Ashkenazi…I clearly am not Sephardi in that I’m black, but really dude?  Last week I wrote a post called, “Love the Stranger” relating to the Jewish Black relationship in NYC.  Again, my theory was proven.  Was it because I was black?   If Mirs, my Ashkenazi Jewish girlfriend had asked would her price also have been $15?  Would he have told her it was for Jewish Holidays rather than asking the question on price?  Am I just being paranoid?

It’s hard to tell.  Instead I’m going to attend a Sukkot Block Party in Brooklyn this weekend with my Jewish Lady Love and call it a good time.  It’s supposed to be a joyous occasion, off of the fasting and atoning that the High Holy Days bring I’m excited to cut loose and get some wine and dine on in a hut!

1 Response to "Jewish Holiday Season"

[...] Hmm…what to say, what to say.  Do you remember my Sukkotlast year?  It wasn’t a pretty picture.  Even after the asshole on the street racially [...]

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