Friday, May 23, 2008
The Counting of the Omer
At a little after 10:15 Thursday Night I parked my car at a Fire Hydrant and ran.
In my long history of rash and automatic moves I have NEVER moved so fast. Whatever the hell it was that was happening, I sure as hell was not going to miss it, not in my neighborhood, not on my Earthen watch, and certainly not for the want of a legal parking space.
Some times a wrong turn is not just a wrong turn.
I had no idea what I was seeing. There was a parade-sized crowd of them standing in a circle- Black Hat to Black Hat to Black Hat- It seemed as if the entire population of Hasidism were there. From my vantage point, out of the window of my car, I couldn't make out what they were all looking at, there were Hundreds of them, with their black coats and broad shoulders and backs to me.
I had taken a wrong turn in South Williamsburg on my way to the BQE west and then next thing I knew I was running toward a crowd of Jews, toward a part of town I had never been to, and as I got closer and I could see more, toward a very large Fire.
What appeared to me to be A Bonfire.
My first thought was "it's a celebration." Then I saw the Fire Trucks and wondered if it was a holiday or, instead, a house fire and if I was simply- childishly- gawking at an Orthodox Misfortune.
Then the smartest part of me said that no apartment fire would put that many people on the street. She's my favorite part of me. I kept running toward the crowd.
I arrived to a revelry made up of men, women, children and firemen.
The Hasidic population of Williamsburg were throwing down and apparently, I had caught it all in the Nick of Time as the New York City Fire Department was hard at work with their Anti- Semitic Fire Hoses.
I slowed my jog and walked toward the crowd (no alarms and no surprises.) I got a little closer so as to see the source of the flames. In the pyre, wood pieces. Chunks and bits and morsels.
I was close to a gaggle of men Religiously Obligated not to touch me and I felt my body being very careful not to get too close. It was as if It wanted them to know It knew the rules.
My Body: Don't worry anybody. I got you. No handshaking. No footsies. Just don't ask me to leave.
I had pulled my hood up over my head somewhere between the Car and the Fire; I was peering out from under it. That was something, I heard myself saying as I laid it over my brow, now why did you do that?
To cover my hair? To blend? To be incognito? Respect? Spydom? I wasn't sure. I guess it was mainly because I didn't have a wig so I had to improvise.
I stood for a couple of seconds, smiling wanly at the men who turned around, who were surprised to see one of Me there; when suddenly, as if we both somehow had been pulled to the same spot, there was another Me there, a girl just walking home to the apartment she undoubtedly rents from one of the guys now standing in the Paganistic Circle at the corner of Flushing ave.
I joked to her, "This happen a lot 'round your parts?"
"I have no idea what's going on, I'm just walking home."
She turns to one of the men with the pe'ot, "What is this?"
And this guy, this Jew trying to enjoy his party, he hesitates and from out of nowhere I realized... I knew! I knew what was going on! Well, partly knew anyway. Enough for the next part to happen.
He mumbled and spelled the name of the Holiday, Lag B'Omer, and told her to Google it and then took a Noble Silence.
She pressed, "yeah, but-"
And then, as easily as not finding the BQE, I began to answer her question (to my surprise as much as to all of the Hasidic men around me.) I roughly described something about the end of Passover and the 49 days leading up to the next holiday, which I was sorry to admit I had forgotten the name of.
"Well there you go," broke in the Hasid, "she's answering it, better than I could." He looked at me a little inquisitively.
Smart ass that I am, I just shrugged my sweatshirted shoulders and said, "Member of the Tribe."
Somewhere in there,The girl, the other Me, the Me who did not cover her head- either disinterested or bemused by my cluttered and clangy explanation- walked away. As proud as I was that I knew SOMETHING, I still didn't know a thing about this fire.
"You should see it in Israel. It burns for days."
He was Israeli. I could tell.
"Did the Fire department know it was happening?"
"Of course," (They all say of course when something is Blatantly Obvious) "We do it every year!"
I knew I had to go home and Google all this myself. I had the general, but none of the specifics.
The blare of a siren and an incoming Fire Engine cut into our conversation and my friendly South-sider was gone. As the crowd aggressively began to disperse, I was less careful with my body. I looked at the Children and the Mothers. I wanted to ask them questions, but could tell by the body language of the throng that they were moving inside, and in my experience the women keep a tight lip anyway or simply remind me that I am a descendant of Sarah's and to be a good Jew. Thanks, Ladies.
The Fire almost out, dull -glowing in the wind, was my cue and reminder that I had been granted ten minutes of luck. It was time for me to take what I saw and go back to my abandoned jalopy before the good municipal servants of the Outer Borough of Brooklyn , bored of the pyromanical tendencies of the Jews, towed my car.
But before I turned around to leave,
The Fire said,
Keep talking to that Rabbi, child.