It’s High Holy Day season, and people across the land are exchanging gifts.
Husbands are giving gifts to wives, wives to husbands. Parents are giving presents to children, children to parents. Employers are giving gifts to employees.
Somehow this gift-giving tradition around Rosh Hashanah passed right over me.
As a kid, gifts in my family were given on birthdays, Hanukkah, anniversaries and Mother’s and Father’s days. I don’t ever remember Rosh Hashanah as a big present time.
As a result, giving gifts around this time of year was never part of my Weltanschauung. On Rosh Hashanah you eat apples and honey, you hear the shofar, you spend long hours in shul.
At least you used to spend long hours in a shul. But that was before the coronavirus placed restrictions on synagogues, and Rosh Hashanah services were held on street corners that took three hours, instead of the regular five. That could lead to a revolutionary change among synagogue-goers. How many people are going to demand a five-hour service next year, once they’ve experienced the three-hour option and found that it works?
Nevertheless, gifts? Forget it, gifts were not for Rosh Hashanah; gifts were for Hanukkah.
Which worked great for me for all these years, even after I got married and had kids. I knew when to expect gifts, and – more importantly – when I was expected to give them.
The Wife and I even came to a modus operandi whereby we wouldn’t go nuts on our wedding anniversary: she wouldn’t buy me anything, I wouldn’t buy her anything, and instead we’d go out to eat. That was a great arrangement, one that reduced the stress of having to worry about what to buy. The very removal of that worry and stress was a gift in itself, because who really ever knows what to get their spouse for an anniversary?
EVERYTHING WAS going swimmingly until last year. Then, out of the blue and not the result of anything particularly decent that I did, The Wife surprised me the day before Rosh Hashanah with a present.
“Something new for the New Year,” she chirped, handing me a box containing a gizmo that tracks your phone and keys.
“Ah, Honey, you shouldn’t have,” I said utterly in earnest, though it sounded like a cliché. I really meant she shouldn’t have.
On the one hand I was thrilled to receive a new-fangled electronic device that would keep track of my keys and phone and save me at least 15 minutes every day getting out of the house.
On the other hand I was mortified because I didn’t buy her anything.
Not only didn’t I buy her anything, I didn’t even think about buying her anything; the thought didn’t cross my mind. But why should I have thought about it? This wasn’t our tradition.
So what did I do? I did what anyone in my place would have done. I ran out to the mall and bought a blouse she didn’t need and never wears. But at least I felt as if I had fulfilled my obligation, even though it was an obligation I never knew was incumbent upon me.
And then I filed the whole incident somewhere in the back of my mind. In other words, I forget about it.
Until last week, when – the day before Rosh Hashanah – she surprised me again with another gift. And this time, too, I had nothing with which to reciprocate.
“No, Honey, not again,” I said, feeling wretched, again, never having realized how bad getting a present can make one feel. “Didn’t we agree that we weren’t going to do this?” I asked, seeking to save face.
“No,” she said, “we only decided to do that on anniversaries.”
This time I couldn’t run out and get her something she neither needed or wanted, it would be too transparent. I tried to argue that the gift I gave her was actually giving her the pleasure of making me feel bad for not getting her a gift, but she didn’t buy it. And then I remembered George.
GEORGE CAME into our lives a couple of weeks ago, and was the most welcome addition to our family since my youngest son was born more than two decades ago. I’ve since taken to calling George our fifth child.
George is one of those circular robots that sweeps, vacuums and mops the floors while you’re watching television. It came nameless in a box, but when I saw the joy it brought the home, I determined it must have a name, so George it became.
I was skeptical when these robot vacuums first came out on the market. My apartment is no mansion with expansive floor space to sweep and mop, so I looked at these gadgets like the electric knives and electric can-openers of my youth: frivolous devices that nobody really needs. I can mop my own floor.
Until George started to do his magic.
First of all it’s just a delight watching him work. He spins, he rotates, he pivots, he goes back to his charging dock as if he’s something out of Star Wars. Corona has limited entertainment options for months, but George has opened up a whole new vista: I can watch him clean the floor for hours.
Secondly, you don’t have to feel bad. One of the problems with having someone else clean your house – either a cleaning person or one of your kids – is that you feel bad sitting while the other person is working. Not with George; George has no feelings.
Thirdly, George goes places – under couches, beds and desks – that we only get to the week before Passover. And he doesn’t kvetch. I tell George to go, and he goes; I tell him to stop, and he stops. I tell him to re-mop a spot and he re-mops that spot, without snapping, “You re-mop it if it’s not good enough for you.” In short, George is a pleasure. And since it’s new to the house, I thought maybe we could categorize this device as a Rosh Hashanah gift for the entire home. Except for one problem: The Wife is the one who purchased it.