A Rosh Hashana Story from Boro Park

This isn’t a representative story. It’s not a story with a lesson, a moral, or even a theme. It’s just a story.

Rosh Hashana davening services begin at 9am and continue until 2pm, with a half-hour break, in most Boro Park shuls. Some go longer, until 4pm.

Men are in shul all day long. Women come and go, some taking turns watching each other’s kids so each woman can be in shul for a part of the davening significant to her – you take shacharis, I’ll take mussaf… After the break, the women’s sections fill up with women and carriages and little children and crying babies, as the kehillah prepares for tekias shofar. In some shuls, there’s a later blowing especially for women, designed to keep the crying kids at home, where they won’t disturb shofar blusen.

During the break, in my parents’ home, my mother and sisters and I would take the prepared foods from the fridge and put them on the blech to heat up for the afternoon meal. We cooked most things ahead of time, and the only thing we needed to do was make sure they didn’t burn when we reheated them.

Some families, especially the ones whose women didn’t go to shul for more than the obligatory shofar, cooked everything on Rosh Hashanah. Unlike shabbos, yom tov carries no prohibition against cooking.

On this particular Rosh Hashanah about six years ago, one of the neighbors was in the process of renovating their home. The shul where they davened went really long – davening wasn’t over until 5 or 6 most years. So when the gas company had to lay new lines and shut off the gas while they did it, Rosh Hashanah afternoon was perfect for them.

Thing is, it wasn’t great for everyone else whose shuls finished earlier…

Cue Zissel Grunbaum coming home from shul, ready to cook for her family of twelve, only to find that her stove would not light, that the gas was off until later that evening.

My siblings and I were sitting on the front porch, enjoying the nice weather and waiting until we were all ready to start the meal. We watched as Zissel marched out of her front gate, already yelling, wooden cooking spoon held high – marched right up to the men working in middle of the street and yelled at them, waving her spoon and gesticulating wildly up at them, her voice reverberating up and down the block, her threatening stance made no less terrifying by her short stature.

The men waved a work order at her – they had no idea what was happening, they were just fulfilling that day’s work orders. The client had specifically requested this time slot, they said.

Zissel responded with some Yiddish words I had never heard before. My brothers laughed delightedly at her foul-mouthed retort.

But the situation wasn’t really funny. My father had come out of the house by that point and made his way down to the altercation playing out in middle of the street.

Calmly, he asked Zissel to let him handle it. Pleasantly, he commiserated with the workers and asked if there’s any way they could possibly postpone the work and turn the gas back on.

After some negotiations and calling their foreman, the workers packed up their tools, got the gas turned back on, and left.

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