Monday, July 10, 2017
Tale 5: Chosen Family - Episode 5 First Half
It was a room temperature February of Northern California, a climate so temperate even the rich go without using the air conditioning for years at a time. Nevertheless, Bob insisted on installing a the top of the line AC unit for those exceedingly rare occasions the Katzes needed use.
It's hard enough explaining to Goyim that Jews operate on a different calendar than the rest of the world and that our New Year is in September rather than January - so it's a good idea not to confuse them still further by telling them that in Exodus, Hashem ordained the new year to begin roughly two weeks before Passover. But if you really want to make a Gentile's head explode, try explaining to them that Jews believe that every year is really four years. According to the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah, written in Israel between the years 190 and 230 Common Era,
"The four new years are: On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals; On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, on the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables. On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees according to the words of the House of Shammai; The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof."
But unlike your usual goyisher metaphysics, there are no weird mind-stretching games at work. Just a very pragmatic, if rather byzantine, laying out of legal determinations based on pragmatic consideration.
What we call Rosh Hashana is in fact just the new year of the seasons - or at least it is according to Rabbi Eliezer, of whom his contemporaneous sages thought so highly that they excommunicated him. The Torah says hardly anything about Rosh Hashana at all except in Leviticus, whose brief commentary on the day we've considered the head of the year for the majority of time since the Torah's reception is that that the first of Tishrei is a day upon which 'a horn is sounded.'
The first of Nissan, two weeks before Passover, is considered the 'New Year' on the Civil Calendar. It is, perhaps oddly from a modern point of view, the new year of measuring the reigns of kings, both Jewish and foreign - which was necessary in olden times because legal documents were always marked by the year of the current king's reign. And even if Rosh Hashana is the New Year for the seasons, it is the First of Nissan that is considered the beginning of farming sabbaticals - the Shmita which Jewish farmers must observe every seventh year to let their land lie fallow and free according to Leviticus - a passage which of course provides that extremely misused quote on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia - 'And thou shalt proclaim Liberty throughout the land!' And, the first of Nissan is also the day for which the yearly tithes are due - the ma'aser, the ten percent tax on vegetables and grain. Who knows? Maybe all this complication serves as a partial historical explanation for all sorts of things: from why taxes are always due around the same time as Passover - a fact that causes endless stress to generations of Jewish accountants; or why financial years always start exactly halfway through the year. Either way, it's difficult to understand why Rosh Hashana is significant when every important milestone seems to center around exactly six months later.
Then there's the first of Elul, the New Year of the Cattle. Yes, Cattle have their own year. Yearly tithes of cattle have to be made from one year to the next of cattle born from one first of Elul - which generally starts around mid-August - to the next.
And finally - perhaps most specifically...... the fifteenth of Shevat. Tu b'Shevat. Which, as was said in the Mishna Rosh Hashanah, is disputed between the first and the fifteenth of Shevat. But regardless of what the House of Shammai thought, our Sages have long since ruled that the fifteenth of Shevat is the day for designating fruits as Orlah, meaning that they're forbidden to eat because they are grown within the first years after the tree's planting - or literally meaning - uncircumcised fruit. Is this a great religion or what?
According to Mishna Rosh Hashanah 14a: On the first of Shevat is the New Year for Trees. What is the reason? - Rabbi Eleazar said in the name of Reb Oshaia: Because the greater part of the year's rain has fallen and the greater part of the cycle is still to come. What is the sense of this? What it means is this: 'Although the greater part of the cycle is still to come, yet since the greater part of the year's rain has fallen...
To take this to Kabbalah, a realm of Judaism that more resembles goyisher metaphysics. We can also quote the Pri Etz Hadar - Fruit of the Beautiful Tree - a Kabbalistic text written by unnamed followers of Reb Yitzhak Luria in the 17th Century:
"Although the 15th of Shevat occurs during the days of Shovavim - meaning the eight weeks when many Jewish men fast on Mondays and Thursdays to atone for their sexual transgressions - it is not a fast day since it is the New Year's Day of the Fruit of the Tree. Through the tikkun - or healing - that is performed on this day with fruit, the sefirah - roughly meaning Godly emanation - "Tzaddik - or righteousness - life of the Worlds" is aroused. The mystery is mentioned in the Zohar, Bereshit - in the beginning "on the third day, the Earth made fruit on the potency of that [supernal] Tzaddik. As it is written, 'And God said, let the Earth bring forth fruit trees that produce fruit. Fruit trees refers to 'the tree of knowledge of good and evil that bears fruit. 'That produce fruit' alludes to Tzaddik, the foundation of the world...
It is a good custom for the faithful to eat many fruits on this day and to celebrate them with words of praise, just as I have instructed my companions."
Or we can just take the first three verses of Psalm 1.
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
And while the Golem reads on the front porch, the rest of the frummies huddle around a small cedar sapling meant to bring a touch of the Holy Land's supernal emanations to a nayes S'dom. For es is Tu B'Shevat. and they will pile into the Freylik's two vans and a third rented one to make their way to plant it in Golden Gate Park.
Bethany makes her way to the back yard as anonymously as possible with Kristina in tow to translate, but amidst the dancing and singing, you don't have to speak Yiddish or Hebrew to make out Golden Gate Park and Middle Drive Vest.
Bethany immediately rushes into the house to dial Ian Greyling, a virgin surgeon called Angreyling in Middle School for his nerdy spazz attacks, but has since switched from his parents unwatched and always replenished liquor cabinet to weed from his connection to upperclassman then college dropout Jeff Hirsch, and in ninth grade metamorphosed his awkward, nerdy, five-foot-six self into the kind of cool that only a scion from the American privilege of centuries can attain so easily with label clothes, adolescent athletic ability, and trained Protestant reserve passed down for five centuries. Six-foot two-and-a-half, petit-bourgeois rebellion shoulder length hair, earring to his left, and turned sixteen last month.
Tsnius forbids us from telling how far Greyling already got with Bethany, but he was looking to get further, and most certainly would as he'd already gotten with no less than a dozen other girls just at San Francisco Friends since the summer.
Bethany though, was different. She has that effect on people, and in her familiar presence he till feels the unfamiliar glow of possibilities only teenagers feel, less about sex than about truth. In middle school, he was once the picked on, learning disabled kid of his grade. But Bethany befriended him, tutored him, defended him, and in ninth grade, he returns the jock of his class.
She demands a ride to Golden Gate Park, and in a hurry. Ian arrives in his Acura Integra forty minutes later, they drive, recklessly to Bethany's relief, and find a gaggle of police cars lined up on Middle Drive West with the lights flashing. All these black hats are being handcuffed while three of them are screaming. One of them has just been bloodily thrown on the ground with the policeman's foot on him.
"Call your uncle."
"Call your uncle right now!"
Jim Greyling, twelve year chair of the Committee on Government Audit and Oversight in the San Francisco City Council, member both of the Committees on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services, Public Utilites Revenue Bond Oversight, owed Reverend Mary for hosting the homeless and women's shelters which First UU founded last year, mostly at its own expense. Surely he'd drop any charges against thirty Orthodox Jews rather than risk an accusation of antisemitism against the San Francisco Police.
Bethany tells Ian exactly what to say. The conversation is fifteen minutes of holding on the line, three minutes of talking. She then uses Ian's carphone to call home. Mary wasn't there, and for the first time in her life, she screamed at Bob with the demand for him to post more than half-a-million dollars in bail immediately. Could any other fifteen year old ever be trusted the way Bob trusts Bethany?
The scream from the open window catches the attention of Rabbi Freylik as his head is tucked into the back of the police car. He recognizes the voice of the freylichen maydaleh and smiles to himself with what he takes to be Chasidisher wisdom and gratitude. The Kad'sh Baruch Hoo is looking out for them and he says a Shehecheyanu in the back seat. Ten minutes later, Bethany, excited by her own abilities, takes Ian into ninety seconds of heaven. She can't wait to tell Kristina about it.
Even Mary is slightly livid with her. It takes lots of money and favors to launch a dream project, and it'll now take at least twice the time to launch a fair housing lobby for California migrant workers. And all for the benefit of these neighbors who won't give her the time of day.
Five days later. That Friday evening at exactly five, just before another camping trip. A giant horn of fruit appears on one of their Easternmost porch lounge chair, in the midst of the beautifully arranged cornucopia a card. "May your family grow and prosper like the fruit on the Tree of Life. Peace unto our neighbors in Holiness, The Freyliks."
Bob has no idea if he said it out loud.