Sunday, September 22, 2019 -
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Locked in, locked out

When I departed NYC for Denver, before Rosh Hashana, neighbors and close friends of mine in my strongly Jewish building asked if they could put up a Rosh Hashana guest in my apartment. “Sure!” I replied. It’s one of the many nice features of the community in the building I live in. Be it borrowing an ingredient or lending your apartment while you’re away, it’s all part of the neighborliness and community.

My neighbors with whom I left my keys were traveling to Israel for Sukkot, with plans to be back by Hoshana Rabba in honor of Simchat Torah. Perfect. That’s when I was returning, and we’d all be together for the holiday.

Only problem is, the unaccounted for delayed flight.

In Denver, I boarded Jetblue’s red eye on the Saturday night of Hoshana Rabba, back to NYC. The funny thing is, it’s customary to remain awake through the night of Hoshana Rabba. The tradition is to study Torah, not to pull an all nighter on a red eye flight. Nonetheless, I felt in spirit with the custom of pulling a Hoshana Rabba all nighter. When I arrived in NYC at 5:15 a.m, when it was still dark out, and with no checked luggage, I was thrilled at the prospect of beating the morning traffic and settling in for a little cat-nap after a night of travel and no sleep.

Once I was in the taxi cab, I remembered about the apartment keys. Darn it, I hadn’t texted my neighbor before Shabbat to arrange a plan and time for the key pick up. Now I had gotten off a red eye and the city was asleep. It was pitch dark outside. It was a Sunday morning.

Ok, I resigned myself. No biggie. I’ll just hang out at the local Starbucks around the corner for a couple of hours until I can text or call people. I’m sure it will all work out with my neighbors, I thought to myself. And if not, another friend of mine in the neighborhood has a spare, too. Either way, I’m covered, I thought.

Sitting there, locked out on Hoshana Rabba, in my sleepy state, my mind kept wandering to Hoshana Rabba.

I needed to still get hoshanot, the willow  branches that are part of the holiday prayers. I thought to myself, hoshanot . . . the most vulnerable of the four species. Even when it’s wrapped in a wet towel to keep it alive or moist, even when it’s in a vase of water itself, after a short time it starts to wilt and fade. Then I started thinking about being locked out. On Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, when our temporary homes are always open, impossible to get locked out of. As temporary as a sukkah might be, it is always available to enter or to leave. How different from our current spaces that we inhabit. A little glitch, and a secure permanent house becomes closed off. You can be locked out. Not so with the sukkah. Although it might highlight man’s vulnerability, as the rain can come through and the stars shine through its roof, it is always there, available to enter and spend time in.

With coffee cup in hand, as morning was breaking, and with all this time on my hands at Starbucks, I started thinking of Hoshana Rabba’s customary food: kreplach. Ground beef and caramelized onion dumplings, enfolded in silky dough, for chicken soup. My grandparents adhered to this custom strictly. Three times a year kreplach was prepared and consumed: on erev Yom Kippur, on Purim and Hoshana Rabba. The idea behind the food is that on these three days Jews klap, they take the action of a thump, a clang or a smack. On erev Yom Kippur we thump on our heart as the tangible expression of our remorse; on Purim we clang the grogger to drown out the evil Haman; and on Hoshana Rabba we smack the vulnerable hoshanot against the earth.

How this trifecta of days characterized by a thump connects with eating kreplach is beyond me, but does it really matter? We get to eat soup and kreplach at midday, with moist lekach honey cake for dessert.

Meanwhile it’s late enough for me to start calling people so I can retrieve my keys and put an end to this state of being locked out of my apartment. Turns out my neighbors’ flight is delayed. No keys until at least 12:30 p.m. It’s only about 8 a.m. I call my always reliable friend in the neighborhood with whom my spare keys reside. Of all times, she decided to go away! For years and years she has always been in the city for Simchat Torah!

I go over to a different neighbor, only until I can get my keys and get back to my apartment.

Finally, I get a hold of my keys, my friend kindly coming along holding my carry-on.

I can’t wait to relax and unwind from the flight, my exhaustion having been exacerbated from being locked out all these hours. It sure has been an interesting no-sleep Hoshana Rabba, I tell myself.

We enter my apartment and close the door behind us, and bang! The inner doorknob clangs to the floor! I pick it up and attempt to screw it back in place, but no dice.

Behold, my friend and I are locked in.

After this long morning of being locked out and leading me to think of the sukkah’s open threshold and protective space, suddenly we are on the other side of things.

From being sealed out, I am now sealed in.

I mean, what are the odds of getting locked out and then also locked in, all in a morning’s time?

What a contrast in feeling and experience.

Just moments ago, all I wanted was to be comfortably ensconced in my own apartment.

Now, I am — against my will.

The truth is, at first it was nice. While regrettably there were no kreplach on hand, I quickly boiled us warm mugs of coffee and cream, and I had adorable windmill butter biscuits nestled in a cookie jar from prior to my trip. While it was forced “nesting,” it was lovely. Imposed calmness and relaxation, because there’s really nothing you could do until my neighbors, who had just arrived from Israel, would be there to pick up their frozen meatballs for the holiday, cooked in advance and stored in my freezer.

They had a second set of my keys, and would be able to unlock the door from the outside, my friend and I reasoned.

Until then, time stood still as we stayed put, sheltered.

This was my conclusion to The Days of Awe season this year. Within hours, on Hoshana Rabba I was locked out and locked in.

Of course, I don’t know what the meaning of this is. I can only hope that it betokens a year replete with the balance of both blessed comings and goings, of ultimately unlocking what’s thus far been locked, all while in the company of good friends and dear family, with nourishment for the journey.

But at the very least, this whacky little experience certainly provided amusement, until we finally did get “rescued,” and I was well on my way to pick up that bundle of hoshanot I was ready to thump.

Copyright © 2018 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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