It’s not to say I am ungrateful. Really I am not. But the thought of spending a three-day-yom tov (that’s 72 hours) with little reprieve does fill me with a feeling of dreaded anticipation. And although this year all observant Jews in the Diaspora will suffer the same fate (the less honest will tell you how much they enjoy it), one has to spare an additional moment’s thought for South Africans celebrating a 3-day Shavuot.
South Africa is “”Meat-land”. We live in meat country. It’s the land of “Biltong” and “Braaivleis” (Beef jerky and b’b’que). Our cows love to be eaten, and are deeply offended if they aren’t. And no one (especially a South African) wants to be rude. Most people don’t even have decent milk crockery and cutlery (it’s hardly used), and we don’t do disposable because that offends the “live-in” (and no one wants to be rude) so any meal over this chag is a festival of the eclectic, as hosts beg, borrow and steal (that’s also a South African thing) from their neighbours.
And we don’t get the milk products like one does in Israel or in the USA or in France. A stingy, sad little collection of maybe two types locally produced kosher cheeses grace our shelves along with a rare import of a synthetic something that will last longer than my mother’s titanium hip. So we are left with cream and pasta which would challenge even the least lactose intolerant Ashkenazi. Everyone speaks about the digestive compromises of Pessach. For many (myself included), Shavout surpasses this by a long shot. In this regard, it’s certainly not a pretty festival.
And then there is something that very few in the Northern Hemisphere have contemplated. Tikkun Leil in the Southern part of the world. That is the night when we drink coffee and try and stay awake because our ancestors didn’t.
Well it’s winter down South . And that means that candle lighting is around 5pm. Which means dinner is done by 9pm and which means that learning starts, well, like then. The sun is also stubbornly slow to rise which means that shacharit starts around 6am. And that is a proper 9 hour Tikkun Leil. It’s not that 15 min business that one has in Israel, where before you have a chance to doze it is time to prayer. Nope, in South Africa Tikkun leil is not for sissies (in South Africa no one wants to be a sissy). Tikkun leil separates the men from the boys and puts hair on one’s chest. It is the night of champions. Assuming one goes. Most don’t, because it’s so darn long and it’s cold and one could get sick, and one needs to be near one’s bathroom.
And then there is the reality that it’s 3 full days without Twitter and Facebook and Whattsapp. Anything could be happening in those 3 days whilst we walk to shul and from shul and we eat that cheese and then go back to shul and come home from shul and we would have no idea. Nothing. Not a clue (aside from the people that aren’t observant and who would tell us). And aside the daily delivery of the newspaper and aside from our “live-ins” who would no doubt alert us. Aside from that, we will have 3 days where we will reach sadly and pathetically for our phones only to remember, too late, that they are in a drawer somewhere. And it will feel empty, until we notice that our children and our wives are in the room. And then hopefully it won’t.
A three day chag should be every Aliya Department’s secret weapon. It validates and underscores and gives reason to go and live in that tough neighbourhood we Jews call home. Throw in a cheese or two, a short tikkun leil and I can’t imagine anyone resisting.