My Word: It’s Succot, slow down!

What better time than Succot to get back to basics and adapt to a more natural, healthier, pace?

October 16, 2011 05:12

Etrog. (photo credit: Wikicommons)

If you look up the word Succot, you’ll probably read that the Festival of Tabernacles has a dual significance – historical and agricultural – commemorating both the 40-year period during which the Children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters, and the harvest festival. For me, it has assumed an added significance: A time to slow down.

True, we are still in the action-packed period of Jewish holidays, cramming every emotion known to Man into one month of prayers, feasting, fasting, repentance and celebration, but the pace, of necessity, is different.

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I have seen beautifully decorated tabernacle booths, booths equipped with mobile air conditioners in Israel and heaters abroad; friends in London used to keep a well-stocked cocktail cabinet in the temporary booth in their garden; friends in Israel have a stereo system. But by its very nature, the succa, however splendid, is a temporary abode. It might be homey but it’s not quite home. It reminds us of a period when the rhythm of life was dictated by the desert, and that suits me just fine – at least for seven days a year.

I was struck last week by a news item that the government is seeking a company to partner with Israel Electric Corporation to build a fiberoptic network that can provide super-fast Internet and television service to compete with existing fixed-line companies. The end result will be a network that will offer a service 10 times faster than the one currently being provided.

I’m not quite sure what this means, but it must be considered good: No fewer than three ministers, all of whom I respect, were present at the October 9 press conference announcing the launch of the program – Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau and Communications (and Welfare and Social Services) Minister Moshe Kahlon. The fact that three members of the cabinet want to be associated with the project indicates that this is considered a positive measure. As they say: Success has many fathers.

That failure is an orphan, we saw, ironically, the same day when not a single member of the government turned up for the main memorial service at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul military cemetery, commemorating the fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur war.

An acknowledged technophobe, I hate upgrading the speed of my Internet service and usually leave it so late that my provider stops begging me and simply informs me that it can no longer maintain a line as slow as mine and therefore it will be providing me a newer, faster service free of charge (or, most recently, slightly cheaper).

I usually hear frustrated sales personnel at the other end of the line, probably not even born in 1973, struggling to be polite and patient (not the most salient characteristics of Israelis, bless ’em) while they try to persuade me that by upgrading I can save so many seconds every time I surf the Web. I’m sure they’re right. But just what can I do with all these extra seconds? I doubt they will add up, at the end of the month, to enough time to even boil the water for a cup of coffee, let alone drink it.

Friends – real ones – try to convince me that the time has come to join Facebook. But even though I might have saved many seconds with my new speedy Internet, I don’t think I want to spend them updating my profile or page. In fact, at the risk of truly showing my stodgy age and nature, I can’t even think of any part of my status I’d want to update at the moment. Baruch Hashem. It is a sign of satisfaction and stability that my job, home and personal life have remained unchanging in a tumultuous world. My prayers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were not for them to be suddenly, divinely upgraded but that they should, God willing, stay the same.

I am, of course, familiar with the concept of carpe diem. I have even on occasion been moved to grab a passing opportunity and seize the day. I don’t, however, favor seizing the day if I know I’m going to be dragged along by it.

Recently, I watched a rebroadcast of a program about singers/songwriters Ahinoam Nini (known abroad as Noa) and Mira Awad in which Nini noted that she comes up with her best creative ideas when she just stares into the distance, sitting on a coastal cliff near her home.

Probably all of us solve problems better and come up with new ideas when we slow down enough for our brains to think clearly. When was the last time you heard someone say: “I came up with this brilliant idea as I was racing to get to an appointment/catch the store before it closed/rushing to collect the kids from school”?

Me? I do my clearest thinking in the shower, swimming in the Jerusalem Pool (under threat by the fast pace of development), or, like Nini, just staring into space.

A friend of mine has developed a theory that global warming is a result of the world actually turning faster. Time certainly seems to be passing more quickly than ever.

As we broke the Yom Kippur fast in shul, an acquaintance sighed: “That’s it. It will soon be time for Pessah.” I understood what she meant.

Whereas once there seemed to be a huge break between the High Holy Days in the fall and Passover in the spring, there now seems to be nothing between them. Just as urban sprawl automatically springs up along a highway, erasing pastoral countryside, so the festivals seem to merge into each other the faster we speed through life.

This is a generation being brought up on a diet of instant gratification.

There are calls for “Peace Now,” “Messiah now” and a social economic reform right this second.

Give me a break.

It took the country 63 years to get this far, against the odds. As Succot reminds us, it took us as a nation a few millennia.

Nothing will happen if we stop the frenzied race, or at least slow down a bit.

Even the world’s leaders, each eager for a place in the history books, should realize, in the words of a song written by Nini and Gil Dor, “We will drive slowly because history is in front of us/ What will get out of overtaking it?”

What better time than Succot to get back to basics and adapt to a more natural, healthier, pace? On the highway of life, how can you enjoy the view if you’re always speeding?

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.

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