Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Taxi Politics - short story

Israel held elections in April 2019; September 2019; March 2020; and March 2021. The 5th elections in our political drama will be held on November 1, 2022. The short story "Taxi Politics" is as relevant today as it was when it was first written in January 2020.

“So, what do you say about our country? Staging elections for the third time this year! Where else in the world do you have a country like this? And we call ourselves a democracy! Is it a democracy when we can’t elect a stable government? What do you say about that?”

The man in the backseat looked up from his phone, surprised that the driver had spoken to him.


“Elections! They’re coming around the corner again and I wondered what is your opinion?”

“My opinion?”

“Yes, your opinion. Every citizen is entitled to have an opinion. I meet many people every day and let me tell you. Everyone has an opinion. What’s yours?”

Friday, October 14, 2022

And Then My Sukkah Collapsed

I was full of enthusiasm and good intentions as I unpacked the pieces of the pre-fab sukkah I had purchased especially for the holiday. It should be a simple matter of fitting together the metallic poles and the do-it-yourself sukkah would be standing.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which Jews "dwell" - or at least eat their meals - during the week-long festival of Sukkot. The temporary status is reminiscent of the years of wandering that the Children of Israel endured on their way to the Promised Land.

Two hours after beginning to build our sukkah, the sukkah collapsed. Poles, and connecting pieces, plastic and metal, all lying on my patio at my feet.

That was on the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, twenty years ago. What I wrote at the time makes me laugh today but back then, I nearly cried with frustration. Here is what I wrote in 1999, many holidays ago.

Not prepared for the holiday rush

I saw an advertisement for pre-fab sukkot at a reasonable price. The company had a Jerusalem location, so I went there one morning before the holiday. It appeared that many others had the same sukkah-buying plans and I had to park a distance from the shop.

The company was not prepared for the holiday rush. There were more customers than salesmen, and the employed workers were quite inexperienced. Chalk it up to the fact that sukkot are only sold once a year, in the period before the holiday. Even so, the staff should have been trained for their job.

When I finally cornered a young salesman, I told him that I was looking for a 2-meter by 3-meter sukkah. My main concern, I said, was to make sure the 3-meter poles would fit in my car. "No problem," the salesman assured me. But he gave no clues how I would transport the poles.

I asked if the company made deliveries. "We'll come Saturday night, but very late," I was told What time was late? I asked. "We'll call you after midnight and let you know what time." I preferred to skip the all-night vigil and decided to try my luck elsewhere.

Anyone can do it

I saw an advertisement, for a competitor in the pre-fab sukkah business. This company claimed that its sukkah poles were no longer than 1 meter in length and were conveniently packed in carrying cases.

I approached a sales agent who turned out to be someone who ran an auto supply shop. He had never previously dealt with pre-fab sukkot. Even so, he assured me that the sukkah's construction was very simple and anyone could do it. The poles were attractively packaged in heavy-duty carry bags, which would have done a golf caddy proud. I paid for the sukkah. It easily fit it into the trunk of my car.

At home, connecting the black plastic pieces was not as easy as it sounded. There were four bags of different-shaped plastic, pieces quite similar to Lego. I looked for instructions, but there were none. Then I remembered the salesman's words. "It is very simple. Anyone can do it."

Logic dictated that a sukkah should be built from its corners. I took my hammer and began forcing the poles into connecting, angular pieces. Amazingly, the poles fit into place. The construction began to take shape, one frame of plastic after another. I enlisted my family to help, holding up one side as I worked on the other. This should do it, I thought, but the end results appeared lopsided and illogical. I told everyone to let go, and that is when the flimsy construction collapsed.

I want my money back!

"Didn't you follow the instructions?" the auto supply salesman asked me the next day. "What instructions?" I shouted. “I demand a refund!” There was only one problem. My sukkah had been taken out of its packaging and there was no money back guarantee.

The salesman gave me two pages of instructions. ‘Put pole A into black piece B’. If I couldn’t do it myself, the salesman promised me that he would personally come to my house and build the sukkah.

I decided to give the construction one more chance. This time I had instructions. I dutifully followed them, step by step. Within a short time, and without the help of my family, I had a formidable construction standing, one that would surely withstand the week-long holiday without collapsing on the dwellers within.

Of course, a sukkah is more than just the poles which form its sides. There are the sheets which serve as the walls and the schach which makes up the sukkah's roof. These are minor matters, compared to the struggles of getting the sukkah to stand in the first place.

Sukkot is a joyous holiday, one when families get together for festive meals in the luxury of flimsy constructions that stand for a week on patios, balconies and in backyards. After the frustrations and sweat that went into the building of my family's sukkah, I anxiously looked forward to sitting back and enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Originally published September 26, 1999 on

Related article:

I Built My Sukkah Upside Down!

Sunday, October 9, 2022

I Built My Sukkah Upside Down!

When you purchase a sukkah in Israel it's supposed to be a lifetime investment. The so-called sukkah l'netzach is easily constructed and then stored away after the holiday for future use. How is it, then, that I've gone through four or five of the contraptions over the years?

The first "ever-lasting" sukkah I bought was nothing more than a set of irrigation pipes. The end of each pipe had to be screwed onto the next pipe's connecting threads with the help of a monkey wrench. This sukkah swayed dangerously in the slightest breeze. After one or two holidays, the end of the pipes broke off, effectively shortening its shelf life.

The second sukkah I purchased, also designed for eternal use, was a marketer's mad concept of an Erector Set. It constituted two golf bags filled with a multitude of bars, angles, connecting joints and support pieces. There were diagrams included but construction was worse than finishing a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. The sukkah stood in place at last, and then it collapsed.

Of course, sukkot are more than just the corner poles and support beams. If you do manage to get the skeleton structure upright and standing, there is also the matter of the walls. Tradition calls for the use of shipment container wood, the real reason anyone makes aliyah or sends a lift of goods to Israel. This usage traces back to the containers carried on the backs of the Israelites' camels during their exodus from Egypt. Lacking this wood, sheets can be tied to the poles and then reused as bedding covers after the holiday.

It is important to remember that a sukkah is a temporary hut or booth only for use during the holiday itself. Therefore, pouring a concrete roof is unsuitable. Instead, software developers invented schach l'netzach, the beach thatch that is imported specially from the bungalows of Sinai. Over the years, the schach tears in enough places to allow for ample starlight to filter through to the guests inside the sukkah as they merrily shake palm fronds left and right.

With the sukkah fully assembled and the schach amply sheltering everyone from the seasonal rains that fall every year during the holiday, it's time to decorate. In the United States this is a simple task. There you just stock up on Christmas decorations in December and use them in your sukkah the following autumn. Luckily in Israel there is no shortage of frilly, metallic-colored streamers and crepe paper pomegranates available and people flock to the Sukkot fairs to purchase them along with the funny-shaped etrog that also plays a part in holiday traditions.

Back to me. This year's construction of our latest sukkah l'netzach took the usual amount of blood, sweat and frustration. Soon our sukkah was standing proudly on our back patio, covered with a new carpet of bamboo schach. It's time to decorate. But wait! Going into the house I feel that something is inherently wrong with my booth.

The sukkah is upside down! No, I don't mean that the schach is actually at my feet with the sky totally exposed. I have mistakenly placed our sukkah poles upside down. As a result, there is a ledge of two inches that one must step over to come inside. How could this have happened? Admittedly, there was no diagram or construction manual for this most recently acquired sukkah model but I assumed it could be assembled by instinct alone.

Okay, we'll watch where we walk when we enter our sukkah for tonight's festive meal. Upside down or not, we're ready to celebrate.

Originally published on The Times of Israel in September 2012.