Jacob's Special Sukkah Guest

by Agnes Romer Segal

© 1989

It was September and a terrible time for Jacob. His grandfather had died early in the summer, after a short illness.

After that confusing first week when his Father had stayed home sitting unshaven on one of Jacob's low stools, talking about Zayde to all the visitors in a low voice, Jacob's life returned almost to normal.

Anyway, his Zayde had usually spent the summer months travelling to all the relatives living in different cities, so it hadn't really felt like Zayde was gone. Jacob kept busy with day camp and bike riding.

But then came September, and with it school, and Jacob could no longer pretend that nothing had really changed. He could not get very excited about his first day back at Hillel Academy when he knew that Zayde would not be waiting for him with a question about what he had learned and a special treat to start him off on a sweet year of learning.

His mood only darkened when his teacher began teaching the class about the shofar that would be sounded on Rosh Hashana. This was the year Zayde had promised to teach him how to blow the shofar!

"Yankele," Zayde had promised last Rosh Hashana when Jacob had entered grade one, "when you have learned to read the blessings and you understand the meaning of the call of the shofar, I will teach you how to blow the shofar like a pro."

Now, sitting in the synagogue on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Jacob could read every blessing in his prayerbook.

His teacher had taught him that the sound of the shofar was meant to awaken every single Jew, to make them realize that with a new year they could consider their past behaviour in order to make a good, fresh start.

Jacob tried very hard to have just those kinds of thoughts during the service, but only anger filled his mind. He was angry at God for not having written Zayde's name in the Book of Life, as it said in the prayers. He was angry at his parents for acting as if not much had changed with Zayde's death. Sure his Dad went to synagogue daily for special prayers for Zayde and they didn't go out to parties or anything like that. But they hardly mentioned Zayde anymore.

He was even angry at Zayde for leaving so suddenly, and just before the Holidays!

All these nasty thoughts made Jacob angry at himself, because he was supposed to be thinking about how he may have upset someone the past year.

Things got worse when Sukkot finally rolled around.

Z'man simchateynu-- "the time of our joy"--the teacher had taught the other name for the holiday.

How could Jacob possible be happy? This had always been his favourite time with Zayde. He would watch Zayde put up his sukkah--last year he had even helped, holding the ladder steady, handing up the decorations. Then when all was ready Zayde would let him carry the etrog in its beautiful box to the synagogue.

"My etrog patrol," he would call Jacob, for it was Jacob's job to make sure that none of the little children broke the stem of the delicate etrog.

When the men paraded around the synagogue, Zayde would let Jacob march in front of him holding the lulav and etrog up straight and tall.

This year Jacob could barely bring himself to sit in his family's sukkah. It just wasn't the same without Zayde. Still, he had to join the family for dinner. As they sat down to their festive meal after the special blessing for sitting in the sukkah, Jacob's father pointed to a poster on the wall. It had actually once been in Zayde's sukkah, but Jacob had never paid much attention to it because it had so much Hebrew writing with no pictures.

His Dad explained to their new neighbours, the Rothmans, that the poster was really an invitation written not in Hebrew but in Aramaic, a language spoken by Jews centuries ago.

"Jews," he explained, "remember the generations that came before. There is an old custom that on each day of this joyous holiday, we invite a different important person from our past to visit us so that we may remember their good deeds and be inspired by their example. In this way we invite Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David. These important visitors are called ushpizin, the Aramaic word for guests."

And Jacob's Dad began reciting from the poster in a strange language sounding like Hebrew, then translating, "I invite to my meal the following guest--Abraham our Forefather."

"And Zayde too," Jacob blurted out, thinking aloud.

"What did you say, Jakie?" his Mother asked.

"And Zayde too," Jacob blushed.

"Yes, certainly, and Zayde too," his Dad answered. "We want Zayde to be with us at all our happy moments and important events. He is our own special guest."

And immediately, Jacob's Mom began telling the Rothmans about the time the neighbour's dog crept into Zayde's sukkah and ate up all his supper. Jacob's Dad followed with the story of how Zayde's sukkah was the only one left standing in the sudden snowstorm a few years back. Soon everyone around the table was laughing at the many stories about Zayde.

Before he knew it, as they were clearing the table for dessert, Jacob was singing along at the top of his voice in the tune Zayde had taught him--Ve-samachta bechagecha ve-hayita ach sameyach-- "You shall rejoice in your holiday and you shall be happy indeed."

This story was originally published in theSept.29-Oct. 19 1989 edition of the Calgary Jewish Star.

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