A couple days before I left for this trip, I went to the Lubavitch store to pick up a few Judaica items to bring with me. While I was waiting to be rung up, someone called the store and I heard the man at the register say, “One second, I’ll transfer you to the Lulav and Etrog Department”. A minute later, someone else called. He picked up the phone, and after a moment said, “One second, I’ll transfer you to the Sukkah Department”. Then he looked at me, winked, and said, “Really, it’s just one guy sitting in our basement taking calls for different departments all year. While I found this quite amusing, this story came to mind a few days ago as we were trying to figure out how to build the first sukkah at the Harare Lemba Synagogue (HLS). Figuring out how the sukkah was going to be built was a whole adventure in and of itself. There is no “Sukkah Department” you can call here, in Harare. You make the best of what you have. So after a few hours of planning and building, our sukkah was done, with just a little bit of time before chag began.
I will continue to mention how much we take for granted in the rest of the world when it comes to knowing about Judaism. HLS has no lu’ach, and therefore the people here did not even know when Sukkot was until I arrived the day before the holiday began. They only started learning about the holiday about 2 months ago, so much of what they knew was very basic. Regardless, the enthusiasm they express every time there is something new to learn is amazing. They never seem to get frustrated, they ask so many wonderful questions, and they continue to push themselves to follow along and to learn.
I taught Brenda, Modreck’s wife about eiruv tavshilin and then we set the table out in the sukkah. As I looked at it, I thought about the sukkah at my parents’ house in West Caldwell, how colorful it always is and always so bright with many lights. We had one small lightbulb outside the sukkah here. Even that small light went out halfway through dinner when the power went out, so we were eating by candlelight. I thought about how our sukkah at home is always filled with as many guests as we can fit. Here, no one lives close enough to one another to come at night. I even thought about the candles my mom always puts out to keep the bugs away. Here, we have a heavy-duty spray in case we see a mosquito because there is always a chance it is carrying malaria. I never thought of all of those lights and decorations at home as a luxury, and I missed having them here. But I looked up at this beautiful starry sky, with barely any light pollution besides this enormous full moon, and I could not be more content with where I was. That meal was one of the most special Sukkot meals I ever had, with people who took me in with wide-open arms.
The next day, I was greeted in the morning with many “boker tov”s and smiles. I will never underestimate the comfort of being with other Jews, no matter who or where they are. I can wake up feeling so far from home and so overwhelmed, but if I start every morning with a “boker tov” and end every evening with a “lilah tov”, and hear words throughout the day like “balagan” and songs like David Melech Yisrael (sung by a 2-year-old), that alone can get me through the day.
I spent most of the day (as most Jews do on yuntif) just relaxing. I showed everyone some pictures from home and told them a bit about my family. Then, George took me for a walk to show me how to get to “town”. You can tell this local shopping center, which is about a 20 minute walk away from the house, used to be very beautiful and thriving, but because of the economy, many of the stores are closed and empty. Still, it’s nice to know there is a place to get the things I may need nearby. The rest of chag was more of the same: relaxing, spending time with the family, and going over some of the t’fillot in the service.
Friday night, we had a wonderful Shabbat dinner. Brenda made me an incredible VEGAN challah, which was so thoughtful. At dinner, I shared some of our family’s traditions like getting blessed over Skype every week when we aren’t at home and that in our family we don’t just do Eishet Chayil, we also do Ashrey Ish for the wife to say to the husband (Modreck was very excited about this).
Saturday, there were Shabbat services in the synagogue. They were very interesting for me. There were about 15-20 people there. Much of the service was in English, some in Hebrew, and there were some parts in Shona, which were really beautiful. I’m looking forward to working with them on some of the melodies for the t’fillot they know in Hebrew, and to teach them to sing in Hebrew some of what they say in English now. As for the Shona, I think it’s really nice that they have that in their service and I wouldn’t want that to change.
After services, we all enjoyed lunch together. It gave me more of an opportunity to meet some of the other people in the Lemba community whom I will be teaching for the next five months. At the end of Shabbat, we did Havdalah, which has become one of my favorite rituals recently since my parents and I started doing it every week at home again. We ate in the sukkah afterwards, and not having had electricity all day, we ate by candlelight once again. I tried sadza for the first time, which is the staple food here, usually made from maize flower and water. With that and the vegetables and fruit from Modreck’s garden being the main things we eat (I just found out that in about a month or two, he’ll start getting mangos and avocados on the trees outside!), I think I’ll do alright here.