5775 — Shemini Atzeret (Yizkor) — “The Sukkah That Wasn’t There”

28/10/2014 at 17:29 Leave a comment

“The Sukkah That Isn’t There”


Shemini Atzeret – Yizkor

Neil F. Blumofe

16 October 2014


On this day, a day of assembly, we reserve this time to dwell a bit longer in the moments of the High Holydays – days perhaps long anticipated or dreaded, and now after a blink or two of our eyes, gone. We are already towards the end of this first month of the New Year, rapidly establishing our routines, and perhaps, falling into familiar patterns.

The world is again beginning to overtake us, and charge us with time-sensitive responsibilities. These precious moments of the Yamim Noraim, filled with reflection, seem muted and now compressed in this final day of gathering memory, before a long spell of winter until Yizkor again appears at the end of Pesach, in the spring. Beginning this evening, we open ourselves up to celebrate as we dance with our sifrei Torah – putting our diminishment and our brokenness behind us, falling directly into the plum blessings of our living as we appreciate these moments of being alive.

And yet, now we linger. We are invited back into our memories – to go back in time and share our deconsecrated sukkah with all of the figures, peopling our past. We ask Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Miriam and Aaron, David and Devorah to move over, as we invite Bubbie, Zayde, Uncle Nate, Aunt Fanny, Mom, Dad, and a host of others into our sukkah, into our fragile space. Today, we all sit together without a blessing of leishev basukkah – today we sit, as if we were in a palace of mourning – where we share our memories, rethink our childhood – in our pursuit of inspiration or peace. Today, we go home – and we go home, differently.

We have a bit of remove as we enter our old houses again – as we smell the smells of our childhood and as we brace for unexpected memories in front of the television, listening to the radio, out on a walk, or just living an everyday life. Our senses are to become a bit more vivid now, in this time – in these moments devoted to silence, tears, and reflection.

A well-known rabbi of a previous generation, Hillel Silverman tells the following story:

Mamaroneck, New York is just 20 minutes from Greenwich, Connecticut – and yet this is a journey that took me 30 years to complete. Because my parents of blessed memory lived back East, and I at the time, was young rabbi in Dallas, we were not able to visit each other very often during the year.


One summer, 30 years ago, we rented a home together in Mamaroneck. It was a beautiful, white stucco house directly on the Sound at Orient Point. We had a wonderful summer together – six incredible weeks – sharing all meals together as a family. We were able to step out of the back door and swim in the ocean. We watched the boats going back and forth, and in the distance we were able to see the skyline of Manhattan. Included in our summer rental was a car, housekeeping, and golf privileges.


In these 30 years, I had not been back. For 30 years I have been reminiscing about that memorable summer with my parents. Little did I dream that I would settle in Greenwich, so close to Mamaroneck.


A few years ago, my daughter, Gila, and her two-year-old son, Matthew, visited us. “Gila, do you remember the wonderful summer we had with Saba and Savtah?” “Yes, I do,” she replied. “How can you remember it – you were five years old.” “I remember it, dad,” she exclaimed. “I remember the house, and the cliffs nearby – I remember the avenue we drove down, and the guardhouse, and the beach.”


“Wow! Do you think if we got into our car with Matthew right now, we would be able to find it?” “I know we will,” she quickly responded. We were a bit farblundget, because 30 years ago, there was no I-95 – and yet, somehow we found our way to Mamaroneck Avenue and then, to Orient Point.


All of a sudden, my daughter screamed out, “Dad, there it is! There’s the house!” Sure enough, there it was — she cried, “Here’s the beach, there’s the greenhouse, and the yard!” It looked just like yesterday.


As we drove back to Greenwich, we tried to recapture the memories since that long-ago summer. We fondly recalled a Bar Mitzvah and two B’not Mitzvah – confirmations, weddings, funerals, vacations, trips, celebrations, new cities, summer camps, college, engagements. We thought about all the things that happened in the last 30 years – the assassination of President Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, and so much more.

And for us, what do we remember in these last 30 years in our lives and in the lives of our civilization – the Challenger Explosion, the First Gulf War, Monica Lewinsky, 9/11, Afghanistan, the election of President Obama, SARS? As we take these moments together, and we all climb into our respective cars for a trip down memory lane – avoiding the interstate, of course – what memories do we have in common – what would we like to share with others – what would we like to get rid of, and erase – what is sweetness, and what is a nightmare. What would we like to do differently, and say, before time gets too late?

A few weeks later, Rabbi Silverman called his daughter and said, “our recent trip has inspired me to write – I’ll write about a father and a daughter and a grandson searching for a home, where they had a lovely summer, long ago – replete with memories and our conversations – and eventually the family will find the house and will go up to the front door – a place that seems unchanged from 30 years ago – and they will ring the doorbell, hoping to see the home once more. And the door will open, and there will be Rabbi Silverman’s mother, who is long dead – she will be standing there in the front room, holding a cake and inviting them to enter.

As we knock on the front doors of our memory houses – or as we sneak in a window in the back, whom do we bring with us, to reminiscence and to tell our stories? As we tell our stories, how accurate are we in our rendering? What details do we highlight, gloss over, or make up?

As Miranda Lambert sings,

I know they say you can’t go home again

I just had to come back one last time.

Ma’am, in know you don’t know me from Adam,

But those handprints on the front steps are mine.


And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom,

Is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar,

And I bet you didn’t’ know under that live oak,

My favorite dog is buried in the yard.


I thought if I could touch this place or feel it,

This brokenness inside me might start healing.

Out here it’s like I’m someone else,

I thought that maybe I could find myself,

If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.

Won’t take nothing but a memory,

From the house that built me.

We are here now in our sukkah that once existed – a time to enter and see that the sukkah will continue in our heart and mind. We will trod these places again next week, and we will have just our memories to direct us, to the places that we hold sacred – to the times where we felt vital – to the friendships that we shared, and the mistakes that we made. This is the moment of entry into this place, as we say goodbye, and change the Torah covers — white back to purple – as we clean out the rose petals from the ark, and put away our shofar for another year.

We begin our stories again this evening, in a time of merriment – knowing that 30 years is but a stitch in time, and all that we ever do is not forgotten and our intentions are known – our smiles, our sweetness, and our bad days too. May our memories inspire us – and provide us with health to not survive this day, rather to dance, to dance with all that we hold sacred and important in one hand, and in our other, the hands of those whom we hold so dear.


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5775 — Sukkot (Shabbat Hol haMoed) — “In the Clouds” 5775 — Bereshit — “Antidiluvian”

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