‘Trabajo, señor?’ a short Mexican wearing an Angels baseball cap asked as he
tapped on Mel’s car window.
Mel was startled at first, but quickly
remembered why he was there. Where else could you find such cheap labor – and on
a Sunday morning no less. He rolled down his window a crack and held up three
Angel Cap and two of his buddies, one in a straw cowboy hat and
the other in blue jeans but no hat, quickly piled into the back seat. Mel eyed
the trio in the rear view mirror as they drove south on the 405.
slowed to a crawl as they drove by the Angels’ ballpark. Mel never got used to
the team’s name changes from the California Angels to the Anaheim Angels to the
present name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. How ridiculous! Besides, it was
repetitive. Everyone knew that “Los Angeles” in Spanish meant “the angels,” so
now the team was calling itself the Angels Angels.
Mel turned on the
radio. The Angels were playing their season finale in Oakland. They had already
clinched their playoff spot, so the game was meaningless, but it relaxed Mel all
“Do you like the Angels, señor?” Angel Cap leaned forward and
asked. He pronounced the word Angels as “anjeles.”
Mel ignored the
question and turned up the volume.
Mel hadn’t been to a game in years. It
was David who used to beg him to buy tickets. The two of them used to go to five
or six games a year. The kid loved it. He knew all the players’ names and
statistics. Mel sighed. That was a long time ago.
Angel Cap repeated his question. Mel responded by shutting
off the radio and they rode in silence the rest of the way.
finally pulled up to Mel’s house, Mel’s wife, Judy, was in the driveway pacing
frantically. Mel eased his wide frame out of the driver’s seat while the three
day laborers quietly filed out from the back.
“So, when’s he coming? What time does his plane arrive from New
York? Traffic to LAX is going to be murder. I need to know exactly when he
“Well, Mel,” her voice trailed off, “I don’t think he’s
“He’s coming to LA, but he’s not coming here to our
“What is it this time?” Mel shouted. “Our home isn’t kosher
enough? I’ll buy out the Fairfax Kosher Deli! His mother’s kitchenware is treif?
I’ll buy enough paper plates and plastic cutlery to last him a lifetime! What
did I do to deserve this?”
Judy knew it was futile to try to calm her
husband. She would just let him finish his tirade. Nothing set him
off as much as their son the ba’al teshuva
Two years before, after David
graduated from high school, they had both agreed it would be a great idea to
send him off to Israel for the summer to a kibbutz, but they never dreamed he
would end up in a black hat yeshiva instead. Now Dovid, as he insisted on
being called, was back in the States, but refused to eat in his parents’
nonkosher home. Sure, they had tried it for a while, with the paper plates and
plastic cutlery, the canned tuna fish and the kosher meats from the deli in LA, but it
was just too hard. Judy had come to terms with the fact that her son just
wouldn’t eat at their home anymore, but Mel hadn’t.
“I didn’t make a fuss
when he didn’t come to our Pessah Seder last year. I didn’t force him to come
home for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur because I knew he wouldn’t step foot in our
Reform temple, so I let it go. But the High Holy Days are over, Judy. What’s his
“Please Mel,” Judy pleaded, signaling with her head in the
direction of the three shocked Mexicans. “Let’s talk about this
“I don’t care!” Mel growled. “Let them hear. They don’t
have the foggiest idea what we’re talking about anyway. Just tell me why David
won’t come this week – and it better not be the kosher thing!”
“Well,” Judy said
in a cautious tone, “it’s because of Succot.”
“Succot? You mean that
silly holiday with the huts? Come on! Now the kid’s just avoiding
“No, Mel. He said that this week is the holiday of Succot and he
will only eat and sleep in a succa. That’s why he’s not coming down
here. He’s staying with friends in LA because they have a succa at their
“Unbelievable! He’s passing on his parents and their million
dollar house, the house he grew up in, to go eat and sleep in a little
“Mel, it’s not that bad.”
MEL WANTED no part
of it. He stormed into the house to go cool off, leaving his wife alone with the
Judy apologized to the workers and gave them instructions
as to what jobs needed to be done in the yard.
The three silently made
their way to where they’d be working. Once she had gone back into the house,
Angel Cap whispered something to his two friends and they nodded
It was nearly noon when Mel finally emerged to check on
“Señor Mel?” Angel Cap asked timidly.
Señor Mel, we heard you and the señora talking. I think we have an answer to
your problem with your son.”
“Oh you do, do you?” Mel was skeptical, but
“Well, Señor Mel,” he said as he took off his cap and gardening
gloves. “Your son won’t come to your house because you don’t have a hut. If you
build a hut, then maybe he will come.”
Mel laughed hard. “A succa? You
want me to build a succa?” “Si, si, señor
. If you build it, he will come!”
“Kevin Costner!” Straw Hat blurted out.
“Campo de sueños!”
babbling about?” Mel wondered aloud.
“La pelicula, señor,” the bareheaded
one jumped in. “The movie – Field of Dreams. If you build it, he will come!”
“You’re crazy! Locos! All of you!”
“No Señor, we’re not locos,” Angel Cap
explained. “If you build the succa, your hijo will come!”
“Succa de sueños
succa of dreams,” Straw Hat laughed, slapping Angel Cap on the back.
odd smile broke across Mel’s face. If he built a succa, David would have no
legitimate excuse not to come sleep over. These little Mexicans might actually
be onto something. If he built it, maybe he would come.
quickly set in. “It’s a nice idea amigos, except there’s one problem. I have no
idea how to build a succa. I wouldn’t even know where to find instructions on
how to build one.”
The laborers’ faces fell. It was such a good
“En el Internet?” Straw Hat suggested.
Mel thought for a
moment. The guys were right. If he searched, he could probably find instructions
on how to build a succa on the Internet. Excitedly, he turned and went back into
Within 20 minutes, Mel returned holding up a stack of papers
in each hand, one in English and the other in Spanish. With a bit of suspicion,
Mel gave the Spanish stack to Angel Cap. The other two workers huddled
While they read, Mel was already planning ahead. He had a
vision of what his succa would look like, just like his grandfather’s one he
remembered growing up in Brooklyn, only much bigger.
“Okay,” Mel said
once they finally looked up from their pages. “First we’ve got to go to the
lumber yard to get some wood. Then we’ll measure the walls, and then
“Just a minute, señor,” Angel Cap interrupted, “that sounds
like a lot of work.”
Just great, Mel thought. They just got here and they
already want to negotiate.
But what Angel Cap explained to Mel was that
according to the pages, a succa’s walls can be made out of almost anything, even
a wall that is already built. They didn’t need to go building new walls they
could simply take off the roof of an existing structure.
MEL LOOKED over
to where Angel Cap’s little brown finger was pointing. The tool shed? “You see,
Señor Mel, if we just take off the techo, the roof, from that little house over
there and put on some branches like in this picture here,” he pointed to the
drawing on his sheet, “you have your hut.”
Mel thought for a moment. The
little guy was right. Growing up in New York he remembered many of his neighbors
used to have the frame of their succa up all year round, like a gazebo, and then
for Succot they’d just replace the roof with palm branches.
good idea, um...”
“Jose, Señor,” he said extending his hand. Mel shook
it. The other two introduced themselves as well. Pepe was the one in the straw
cowboy hat and Manuel was the bareheaded one in the blue jeans.
let’s do it,” Mel decided.
” Jose called out and the
three of them made their way to the shed.
After they had cleared the
wooden shack of all its contents, the three quickly swept away the dust and
spiders’ webs. The roof was pretty easy to remove as it was just a hard plastic
covering that protected the contents of the shed from the rare southern
Judy observed from the window. She wondered what in the
world they were doing out there in the shed. She considered going out there to
investigate, but then thought better of it.
The three workers
successfully removed the plastic roof of the shed from the wooden beams that
supported it. Mel supervised them closely all the while.
. We need palmas for the top.” The workers were pointing to the one palm
tree on the edge of his property. With a wave of his hand Mel gave permission.
The three quickly cut down a number of the lower palm branches. The more nimble
Manuel climbed up the tree to get to the higher ones.
They returned to
the shed to find sandwiches made by Judy waiting for them. The three workers
quickly spread the palms atop the shed and then adjourned to the shade of the
fig tree to eat.
“Melvin Seymour Levy!” Judy smiled at Mel playfully when
he returned to the kitchen to eat his sandwich. “It looks like you and your new
friends are building a succa.”
“Don’t get carried away, Judy. They’re not
my friends. I’m only doing this for David. I must be crazy.”
it’s sweet.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Just don’t get all religious on
“Very funny, Judy. Did you call David?”
“Yes, but he didn’t answer.
I left him a message.”
“Did you mention the succa?”
think he’ll come, Judy?”
“I don’t know Mel, he’s pretty
“Yeah,” Mel sighed. “He got that from me.”
As it got
dark, Mel signaled to the three workers and they hopped into his car. Mel drove
them back to the stadium parking lot where he had picked them up that
“Thank you, señor,” Jose said when Mel stuffed a handful of
bills into his hand to be divided among the three.
“No problem. You know,
if you’re looking for more work...”
“Yes, señor?” “Well, there’s still
more yard work to be done and I’ll need some help to decorate the
Same time tomorrow?”
They nodded and Mel drove off.
three huddled together. Another idea was forming.
The next day the trio
came with backpacks.
Probably their lunch, Mel thought. They must not
like Judy’s sandwiches. Mel left them to their yard work and he went inside to
try and call David again.
“I went out and put up some decorations in your
succa,” Judy told Mel. “Nothing fancy, just some old posters I had in the
basement from when I taught Sunday school at the temple years ago, and various
old Rosh Hashana cards I found.”
“Great,” Mel said unenthusiastically.
“But let’s see if the kid comes first.”
“Oh, and I also found this
beautiful poster your grandfather once gave us years ago to hang in our succa –
if we ever made one. It’s an Ushpizy chart? Do you know what that is?
called Ushpizin,” Mel answered quite annoyed. He had grown up in a religious
home, so he wasn’t completely ignorant. “It’s some sort of old tradition to invite biblical guests into your succa each day of the
“Well, it’s a very nice poster, so I hung it in your
“Whatever,” Mel sighed. He didn’t have patience for old
Judy peered out the kitchen window.
“There seems to be
some commotion out there in the succa. Maybe you should go check it
Mel hurried out to the shed. What were those Mexicans up to now? He
couldn’t believe what he saw. Next to Judy’s posters from Israel and the Rosh
Hashana cards they had hung a giant Mexican flag they had brought.
like it, señor?” Jose asked hesitantly. “If not, we can take it down. No
Mel couldn’t help but laugh. “No, I kind of like it. It’s nice.
The three proceeded to take out various decorations from
their bags. They hung colorful Christmas colored streamers across the length of
the succa. Mel smiled. It was really starting to look like a succa – a Mexican
succa, but a succa nonetheless.
He then noticed the Ushpizin chart Judy
had put up. He had a faint memory of his grandfather saying the passages
welcoming the patriarch Abraham on the first night of Succot. He began to study
the names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses... Manuel came up behind him and started
examining the poster too. Mel stepped away and went back into the
house. Manuel pulled out a pencil from his pocket and started drawing
something on the poster.
AS THE days went on, Jose, Pepe and Manuel had
become so intrigued by the holiday that they kept asking Mel questions. “Why do
you sit in this hut? What is this palm branch I see the kid in the poster
waving? What is this holiday all about?”
Mel went inside and studied the
Internet pages carefully. He remembered the basics of the holiday, but wasn’t
completely sure. When he was ready, he explained to them that after Moses and
the Israelites came out of Egypt, they wandered 40 years in the desert. During
their travels, they made little huts to protect themselves from the elements. To
remember this event and to show faith and appreciation to God, Jews make little
huts outside their homes called succot and sit in them for a week. That seemed
to satisfy them. They seemed to be able to identify with that. They also, much
to Mel’s surprise, could identify all the biblical figures on the Ushpizin
honored guests chart with their names in Spanish.
Mel printed more and
more pages off the Internet, both in Spanish and in English. When the succa was
done, Mel found other odd jobs for them to do in and around the house, and on
their breaks they would read the pages while they drank cold water in the succa.
Mel moved the picnic table into the succa so the guys could have their lunch
there. Soon Mel began to join them for lunch. This went on for a number of
Mel made a special trip up to LA to buy a week’s worth of kosher
deli sandwiches just for David. With every passing day, his heart sank a little
more with no sign of David. At least Jose, Pepe, and Manuel were enjoying the
Judy tried to convince Mel that they didn’t need any
more help around the garden anymore and that maybe it was also time for him to
take down the succa.
“I can’t take down the succa now,” Mel protested.
Succot isn’t over yet. Besides, I’ve left messages for David every day and he
left a message on our answering machine yesterday saying he would come by
sometime this week to check out our succa. The guys and I will take it down in a
couple of days, after Succot is over.”
That afternoon in the succa, the
four of them were enjoying the deli sandwiches. Manuel rolled up his rye bread
like a tortilla. The Angels playoff game was playing in the background on Jose’s
small transistor radio – this time it was the Spanish broadcast.
would go great with frijoles
– you know, refried beans,” Pepe said, taking a
bite of his salami sandwich.
“Then it’s a good thing we are outside,”
They all laughed. Mel bent over and pulled out four cans of
Dos Equis from the cooler by his feet. They popped open their cans
!” Jose said raising his beer.
replied “To the succa de sueños
!” Pepe declared.
“To the Angels!” Manuel
“No, no” Mel corrected. “To the Anjeles
The others cheered and
took another swig from their beers.
Mel put his beer down and let out a
Jose signaled to Pepe to turn off the radio.
worry, señor, your hijo
will come.” Jose said in a hopeful tone. “Si, si, like
in the movie.
If you build it, he will come. You built the succa, now he
“Forget it.” Mel said, waving them off with his hand. “Succot
is almost over and he didn’t come. That only works in the movies.”
you’re wrong señor!” Manuel protested.
“He will come, I know it!”
yeah,” Mel said skeptically. “How do you know?”
“The Ushpizin,” he said,
pointing to Judy’s chart. “We have been sitting here all week looking at
Mel was confused.
“Yes,” Pepe added. “Each day of the holiday
you are supposed to invite a different person from the Bible to come to your
succa. You know, Abraham, Isaac, Jacobo...”
“Yeah, yeah. So what’s your
“Today is the last day of the holiday; look at the chart and tell me who
we invite today.”
Mel got up and went over to the chart.
David!” the three answered in unison.
come on, guys,” Mel consoled them. “I know you worked hard to build this succa
and I know you want my son to come back and visit, but it’s not going to happen.
It just won’t happen.”
“Why, señor? Why don’t you think he is going to
come?” Jose asked.
Mel sat back down and rubbed his forehead.
looked around the table at the three Mexicans. Should he tell them? “It’s
like this,” Mel started. “I grew up in a pretty religious home. I went to Jewish
day school and even yeshiva, but then I went off to college and married Judy and
stopped being religious.”
The three nodded. They seemed to understand, so
“Judy and I decided we would raise our son to be Jewish,
but not religious. He could live life to the fullest, you know, not have to worry about keeping kosher all the time or
not driving a car on Saturday. You know what I mean?”
The three continued
nodding, so Mel kept going.
“And so, because we are Zionistic, we sent
him to go work on a kibbutz in Israel, but he somehow ended up in an
ultra-Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem over there, and now he is so religious that
he keeps strictly kosher and won’t even eat in my house anymore.”
bothers you that he keeps kosher?” Pepe asked innocently.
“Well, no. I
can’t fault him for that. Keeping kosher is a good thing, but does he have to
dress like that with the big black hat and the tzizit flying out from under his
“So, it’s his way of dressing that bothers you?” Manuel
“No, it’s not that either. It’s just that he’s so, so... so
“Different, señor?” Jose asked. “We are different than you?
Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, no, no,” Mel backtracked. “It’s just
that when David was a kid, we used to do things together, go to the ball games,
play catch, you know father-son stuff.”
“And now you can’t do that
anymore?” Pepe asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” Mel stuttered.
looked around at the three Mexicans, but they all had their eyes closed as if
they were in deep meditation. A shout from outside the succa broke the
“Mel!” Judy cried out from the house. “Mel! Come quickly!”
ran out of the succa to the front of the house where a bearded young man in a
black hat, black pants and a white shirt was hugging Judy.
“Get off my
wife!” Mel yelled.
The surprised man turned around.
David hugged his dad and Mel slowly returned the
“It’s good to be home,” David said. “It’s been too
“Yeah, too long,” Mel agreed, still recovering from the
“Dad, I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. I got all your messages. I
didn’t realize how important it was for you that I come.”
right, David. I shouldn’t have pressured you. You’re grown up now. You can make
your own decisions.”
“Yes, but ‘Honor thy mother and thy father’ is one
of the Ten Commandments.”
Mel was about to say something harsh to his
Bible-quoting son, but Judy’s stern look held him back.
“Yeah, and don’t
you forget it,” Mel said, playfully punching him in the arm.
David?” Judy asked.
“Well, that’s what I came for – to eat in dad’s
“Great!” Mel said.
“Wait till you meet the
“Guys?” David asked. “You have friends over, dad?”
from down south,” he smirked.
“No, a bit further south than
that,” Mel chuckled. “You’ll meet them now. They’re out in the
David followed Mel to where the storage shed used to be. He
couldn’t believe his dad had actually made a succa. Judy followed them with some
cold soft drinks.
“They’re not here!” Mel exclaimed looking in the succa.
An Angels cap was resting on the picnic table.
“Oh, I’m sure they’re
around here somewhere, Mel,” Judy said. “They couldn’t have just vanished into
thin air. Look, one of them even left his baseball cap here.”
around the yard calling their names, but to no avail.
disappeared.” Mel said in disbelief when he returned to the succa.
come on, Mel,” Judy said. “They’re just Mexicans.”
Mel gave Judy a stern
look, but said nothing.
“What’s this?” David asked, studying the Ushpizin
poster on the succa wall.
“Your mom put that poster up,” Mel
"No, not the poster, what’s on the poster.
Mel and Judy came over to see what David was pointing
“Do you know who the first Ushpizin guest is?” David asked
rhetorically. “It’s Abraham. In the picture here he is shown showing hospitality
to the three nomads who came to his tent.”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember that
story from Hebrew school,” Mel grumbled. “Those three guys looked like Arabian
travelers, but they turned out to be angels sent by God to
“Yes, dad. That’s exactly right. But somebody here has
tampered with your Ushpizin poster.”
“What do mean, tampered with?” Mel
“You see here,” David pointed to a specific spot. “Someone has
drawn Mexican sombreros on Abraham’s three angels. See?”
Mel leaned over. David
was right. There was old, bearded Abraham serving food to his three wandering
guests, but atop their heads were not turbans, but pencil-drawn sombreros. Mel
had to admit it was kind of funny. It was probably Manuel, the one who fancied
himself an artist, who had done it.
MEL SHOOK his head and laughed.
“Those crazy guys – they’re probably out in the yard somewhere.”
about to exit the succa to go look for them again, but Judy elbowed him
indicating that he should say something to his son first.
“David, I have
a friend who works for the Angels front office. He can get probably get us
playoff tickets for next week, if you want to go? You still like baseball,
“Yeah, sure, dad. That’ll be great.”
“Great! I’ll go call him
now.” Mel smiled and went back into the house.
Judy picked up the
baseball cap from the table and examined it.
“David, what’s this?” “The
big A? That’s the Angels’ logo, mom.”
“No, not that. What’s written here
on the brim of the cap? It’s in Spanish. Come on, David. You took Spanish in
school. What does it say?”
David read slowly.“Si lo contruyes,
“But what does that mean?” Judy asked impatiently.
looked up and smiled quizzically at his mother.
“If you build it, he will come.”The writer has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar-Ilan University.