Friday, September 20, 2013

Living in a Booth, Not so Fast

No I have not decided to vacate my home. Last Wednesday started the Jewish holiday of Succot or the Feast of the Booths. Nope I kid you not. It's actually a commemoration of the time the Jews pissed off God at Mt Sinai and were forced to wonder for 40 years in the desert until they could enter the promised land of Eretz Israel. You think we Jews have long memories, just think how long God's memory happens to be.

I had actually forgotten about this fun video made to celebrate the holiday:

Now the etrog, or that rather big lemon seen in the video, is a specialized fruit grown in the Middle East. They actually have etrog farms in much the same way here in the USA we have Christmas tree farms. Etrogs are so specific in how they have to be grown and how unblemished they have to be that some will cost upwards of hundreds of dollars. In fact there is such a demand for etrogs in Israel that they have to import them from Morocco.

You also see the singers waving around what looks like a palm branch but it is actually three species of trees. the lulav, hadas and aravah. HERE Traditionally the four species (branches of trees and etrog) reflects the four species of mankind. They are held together because we are all part and parcel of the world. It is up to each of us to learn how to live with each another:

etrog: person with both wisdom (learning) and who preforms good deed
hadas (myrtle tree): person who preforms good deeds but lacks wisdom (learning)
lulav (date palm): person who has wisdom (learning) but does not perform good deeds
aravah (willow tree): person who has neither wisdom (learning) nor performs good deeds

There is also another interpretation of the four species, and that it quite personal:

Relationship With Self
Another way to look at the Lulav is mentioned in "Sefer Bahir," a kabbalistic work almost 2,000 years old. It describes the four species as four parts of a human being:

  1. The Esrog represents the heart, the seat of our emotions.
  2. The Hadas (myrtle) has leaves shaped like an eye.
  3. The Lulav (date palm) represents the spine, from where our actions emanate.
  4. The Aravah (willow) represents the lips, our speech.
The four species must be taken together as a unit. So too, to achieve happiness, one must use all of his faculties in unison. You cannot say one thing and feel another. We must unify our feelings, our actions, our speech and our outlook. With all of these working together, we are well on the path to self-esteem, tranquility and joy.  From aish

Technically we are supposed to eat our meals inside the succah and there are people who even have set it up as a complete living environment for the 7 day holiday. Yep, they sleep in the succah too. Now in parts of Israel that may be an easy thing to do. But here in the northeast United States where there is frost on the ground at night...I will stick to my bed and the inside of my house.

when you live in an apartment building creativity is the name of the game


Meanwhile here is a tongue-in-cheek look at what succah booths mean in the politically charged atmosphere of the middle east 
(PS its meant to laugh)


As far as any autism issues during this holiday are concerned, there are none. That's right, none. Mainly because we actually don't build a succah nor make the boys eat in one. And as for sleeping in one, that would so never happen. When the boys were younger we had friends who built a succah and we would go to their house for a party to celebrate the holiday. Our former Temple of course, had a succah, and we would go there for a holiday blessing. Their college used to also put up a succah and I would take the boys there, have them take a bite of an apple, say a blessing and be done with it. 

Now...forget about it.

Truth be told the issue with the succah has nothing to do with "autism per se," but has to do with the comorbid issues and phobias that are associated with their autism. The biggest issue is flying insects. No matter what we have done to try to help them, the issue while it has gotten better, is not worth purposefully provoking. And yes they still get upset if there are flying bugs in the house, classroom or in their near vicinity. Yes they can help out at the Audubon society picking weeks and working in the garden (as long as they have bug repellent one), but the idea of actually sitting outside and eating is anxiety provoking. Picnics do not happen in this family. Eating outside at a restaurant does not happen. Thankfully the porch is fully screened in or they would never ever go sit outside.

Hubby and I made a decision years ago that the boys will practice their Judaism as well as they can without becoming overwhelmed. It's why we never went to Temple on High Holy Days and our Passover Seders are at most 30 minutes long (Usually we are lucky if the Seders last ten minutes before the boys get into a knock down dragout about the existence of God alltogether). We make our religion home-centered, as Judaism requires anyway. 

The idea is religion is something that should not be a burden but a pleasure. It should give you succor and joy. To make something that is supposed to give a person happiness odorous, is to deprive that person of what religion is truly all about. So we have always modified religion for the boys. We give them the basics and then as much of the traditions as possible.

But above all, we try to instill in our children that no matter what you do in life you are entitled to be comfortable, happy and content. Autism may forestall certain religious practices, but the boys also know it doesn't stand in the way of them learning about their Jewish heritage. We have basically  autismified our Judaism. (Yes I just made that word up.)

In life you have to learn to pick and chose what battles to fight. We have chosen to fight the battles required for the boys to be properly integrated into society. But I refuse to battle religion itself.  Considering our offerings to God still come with an open heart,  God is going to have to accept them the way they came. That is what a truly loving God would do anyway.