The Argentine-born senior rabbi of my temple sounds a lot like the late actor Raul Julia, best known for his role as Gomez in “Addams Family Values.” While it makes services much more entertaining to imagine him as Gomez, I’m glad I receive the rabbi’s less-distracting weekly emails. Just this past week, for example, he notified us that we’re now in the Hebrew month of Elul.
At first I spaced on the word “Elul.” I wondered if this was my rabbi’s trick to make up a phony calendar month to embarrass those with spotty synagogue attendance. But, indeed, Elul is the month of preparation leading up to the High Holy Days, when all of us are supposed to look at ourselves critically and honestly.
Certainly there are other reasons to remember Elul: In Elul, Moses went back up on Mount Sinai to beseech God to spare the Israelites who’d worshipped the Golden Calf. (“I know they sinned, Lord. And if they’d held onto their gold, one day it would’ve been worth $2,000 an ounce!”)
It was also the month George Washington visited the Touro Synagogue of Newport, R.I., in 1790. He followed up with a letter to the synagogue setting out his view of religious freedom. The letter ended, “May the children of the Stock of Abraham kindly send me the chewy round dough bread products called ‘beygls,’ without sesame seeds, poppy seeds or jalapeño.”
Looking back over my life, I have much to repent for, like when I was 6 and cut diamond-shaped holes (for eyes) in my mother’s new 3,000-thread-count white satin sheets so I could be a ghost on Halloween. Or even now, selfishly refusing to share my weekly hot fudge sundaes with friends because they aren’t good enough. (My friends, not the sundaes.)
But there is one sin I committed and never acknowledged. I imagine the Repentance Statute of Limitations has run on it, but telling you may relieve my troubled conscience.
I was attending Camp Saratoga, now known as Camp Newman. One day at breakfast I noticed a few tables in the Mess Hall that had, in addition to the usual centerpiece of small single-serving boxes of Wheaties, Grape Nuts and Bran Flakes, a couple of boxes of Kellogg’s Triple Snack. Most kids ignored the new boxes, so used to eating Wheaties, Grape Nuts and Bran Flakes that they’d long lost their sense of taste.
When I opened a Triple Snack box, I was amazed to discover the cereal was a combination of Sugar Smacks, Sugar Pops and peanuts. (This was before the peanut allergy was invented by the potato chip industry.) Unfortunately, I forgot to put on a poker face. My tablemates quickly spotted my frenzied devouring of this new cereal.
In subsequent days, all campers were demanding Triple Snack for breakfast. Once they’d tried Triple Snack, there was no going back. But the camp provided only a couple of boxes per table. As a result, some campers who shall remain nameless (because I don’t remember their names) would race to several tables before breakfast and immediately grab the Triple Snack. Fights broke out: The Triple Snack hoarders were furiously pelted with new boxes of Special K (?!) that camp officials idiotically thought would be popular.
Before long, camp staff and officials met to discuss how to deal with the Triple Snack War. I’m certain my name was raised as the perpetrator since I’d also figured out how to arrive early at breakfast, shift around the Triple Snack boxes so some tables had no Triple Snacks and other tables had only Triple Snacks. And I’d invented Triple Snack Blockade Running, hiding the boxes on my person so I could sneak them out of the Mess Hall for later consumption.
Apparently the Union of American Hebrew Congregations met on this issue and appealed to Kellogg’s because by the following year at camp, Triple Snack had disappeared. Before long it was gone from supermarket shelves as well.
I now realize my rabbi would insist it’s never too late for teshuvah (repentance). Back in camp I stole. I coveted. I let greed rule my behavior.
That will never happen again.
However, with respect to hot fudge sundaes, Rabbi, all bets are off.
Trudi York Gardner lives in Walnut Creek and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her blog, www.tygerpen.com.