Erev Succos (the day before the commencement of the holiday of Succos) was always a special day for me as a child. On the night of Erev Succos my father would come home early and take my brother Karl and me to the Lower East Side to purchase and esrog and lulav. In those days the hub of the Jewish retail district was the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Delancey Street, Essex Street, Hester Street and Orchard Street were lined with small Jewish owned stores on the first floor of tenement houses. After Yom Kippur almost every storefront was converted into an esrog store. Even the venerable Miller’s Cheese store rented out its window to an esrog merchant. The sidewalks were filled with peddlers’ tables selling hadasim and aravos. Each merchant and peddler would call out, in Yiddish, their wares and try to entice into their cubicle the throngs of people who came to find the prefect esrog and lulav. There were literally thousands of people on the streets, looking, selling and buying.
When we walked the streets with my father he would be stopped time and time again by a friend or an acquaintance. Many times he was greeted by a friend of his identical twin brother Hyman thinking that my dad was my uncle. My father would simply play along and then, as we walked away, would turn to us and say, “He knows Hymie”. I loved it! Eventually my father would find what he was looking for, negotiate the price and we would be back on our way home.
Many years have passed since I last bought an esrog with my father on the Lower East Side but every year as I go to buy my esrog and lulav in Silver Spring I think of and long for those wonderful adventures with him.
And for the last twenty nine years Erev Succos conjures up other sadder memories. I remember flying into LaGuardia on the eastern Shuttle early that Sunday morning in 1985 with my young family, going to my parents’ house and then to my father’s funeral in the main sanctuary of the shul which he built, the Queens Jewish Center. From there to the New Montefiore Cemetery on Long Island and then back to my parents’ house were we sat shiva for an hour. Then it was time to go to shul to say kaddish and welcome in the holiday. I will never forget the tears streaming down our faces as we made kiddush in the sukkah and recited Shehechiyanu.
Many years have passed since that day but the events of Erev Succos are etched in my memory.
Today for the first time in my life I am saying kaddish for both my parents. Tonight I will recite the kiddush and say the Shehechiyanu.