Duel in the Succah
Rabbi Ruben wore his long and difficult career on his face like so many cuts and bruises. He was a big man, tall in stature, large in the belly, and his thick gray beard was the length and color of a man who was in his late 50’s.
When the rabbi glanced at Gabriel, he had an intense look in his eye, like that of an diamond appraiser. The look was softened by another expression, an air that said the big man under the dark hat had a soul that was forgiving in its conclusions.
Gabriel was alone when he wandered into the small synagogue in Ramat David in the north of Israel. He was wearing a Yankee baseball cap, and a typical American outfit of safari colored shorts, a white t-shirt and sandals. He was not dressed formally for synagogue because it was still hot and humid on this late September day and Gabriel did not care to be uncomfortable. He was in his early sixties and had long ago stopped trying to impress strangers with clothes or money, preferring to remain anonymous while he traveled and gathered material for his books.
Rabbi Reuben would not allow Gabriel to remain anonymous, stopping him on his way out after services.
“Are you alone?” the rabbi asked in perfect English.
Gabriel hoped to walk past the imposing rabbi and disappear into the night, but the rabbi used his girth to block the doorway. When he saw the warmth that lay behind the brown eyes of his inquisitor, Gabriel relaxed and then shrugged.
“Yes, I am alone,” Gabriel confessed.
“Why don’t you join me at my home in our succah?”
Gabriel accepted the invitation, even though there were other places he would have preferred to go, one of which was a pleasant air conditioned restaurant a few blocks away that served gourmet pasta and fine desserts, and wasn’t fussy about shabbos and koshrut.
It was a clear night in Israel and the sky was filling up with stars. While they walked to his home, the rabbi plied Gabriel with questions:
Yes, he was an American. No, he was not a businessman, he was a writer at the top of his career. Yes, he had a family back in the states, and no, they were not religious. Yes, he was divorced, and no, he was not looking for a replacement. Yes, he was a Zionist, but no, he did not want to live in Israel, America suited him just fine.
It was both Shabbos and the third night of Succot, the holiday of the booths, and when they arrived at the rabbi’s home, his succah was very large and big enough for twenty.
“My wife and seven children are visiting relatives in Kfar Adumim,” he apologized to Gabriel. “So tonight I am a buchoor, a single man, because I can not desert my congregation on Shabbos, although it appears my congregation has deserted me for their own succahs.”
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