The Jewish Carpenter

Things are not calm in our Herzliya home. The carpenter is doing one of his least favorite parts of the job. He’s putting on the finishing touches which means the paint. He loves to build. He hates to paint. He’s great at building. He’s a miserable painter.

So there are lots of expletives floating through the hallowed air of Israel as the dark brown stain which looks so smashing on the new closet, looks less delightful on the recently painted white wall (work of our friend Assad).

My husband is that carpenter. And most definitely not a painter. He started our married life as an academic, finishing degrees in record time and always at the head of his class in chemical engineering. He got a great job and succeeded for almost four decades, dressing up daily in suit and tie. White collar all the way.

But his true love was building. Not empires. Not mansions. Just things made out of wood. Wherever we’ve lived there are and were reminders of his passion. Making something original and beautiful and functional and, for him, fun.

I am always late in appreciating the work.
First I complain about the persistent, insistent, resistant mess. Sawdust is not my best friend It creeps into and onto every surface. My bare feet are gritty. It’s an epidemic! Only when all the work is done and the cleaning is over do I stop to praise and admire and appreciate. After all I’m getting true custom work, built to order with love and devotion for practically nothing. Only a witch like me could complain about that!

His first big project was in our ranch house in Clark, New Jersey. He decided to finish the basement. Mind you, this was a young man who had grown up in a Brooklyn apartment where all projects were done by the super. His parent’s home probably didn’t even have a hammer. But, somewhere in the gene pool there was a creator of beautiful things made from wood. Definitely.

So the basement project took about five years to complete. After all the guy was working full time and going to graduate school as well. Nonetheless, It was magnificent. Even had a lavatory. Closets for toys. Cozy carpeted floor. And stylish gray paneled walls, as was the fashion in the 1960’s. Many a happy family event was celebrated in that spacious, heated, inviting room. Our son’s brit was an especially big day, with 97 guests and room for all. Then there was our second daughter’s Bat Mitzvah party. She had been to the usual elegant b’nai mitzvah of her friends and classmates with all the bells and whistles. She wanted none of it. She started telling us when she was about 10, that all she wanted was a chocolate cake and a party downstairs.We assumed she’d want black tie when the time came. Nope. She had a party for all of her Schechter classmates and friends from Camp Ramah, right down there in the room Abba had built. They played cards. They ate a bit. They had a yummy chocolate cake. It was certainly understated. She’s now over 50 and her friends still remind her that her party was the best of all. I guess some 12 and 13 year olds are happiest hanging out without fancy duds and hairdos. It was a major success..

The projects continued with a shift towards building furniture. Furniture could move with us. And so there are heirloom quality tables all over our home, all built to order.

One of our daughters saw an opportunity when Abba retired. She runs a camp and Abba would make a great Rosh Etz, woodworking head. This was a perfect symbiotic relationship, giving a retiree a meaningful way to contribute to the Jewish future and giving Abba a project to keep him happily entertained all year.

All year you ask? Isn’t camp only for 8 summer weeks? Abba takes his work very seriously. The intervening 10 months were spent in planning projects, getting supplies as inexpensively as possible, and doing the tricky moves that little kids just couldn’t do. Drilling. Sawing. By the time summer rolled around the camp wood shop was ready to go and it became a favorite elective among the campers. This endeavor lasted for at least 5 years when Abba retired from Tzevet so we could spend summers shvitzing in Herzliya.

Of course our children all managed to hire the Rosh Etz for their own homes. Desks. Closets Decks.. Even a wall moved transforming a garage into a family room. Endless jobs. Always done with love and perfection.

Then there was when our son-in-law Matt received smicha. A magnificent made by Abba shtender is constantly used, engraved with blessings and made with joy and pride.

And our married grandson and his treasure of a wife wanted a custom designed netilat yadayim station. Oh the planning that went into that unique piece of Judaica. It now stands in their apartment, in a place of honor.

Here in Israel our 7 year old grandnephew Amit earned a nameplate for his helping Doad Alvin with a buffet table. Todah Amiti.

The current project is, as all of them seem to be, a major engineering and design challenge. The first move is pencil to paper. No computers here. Draw what you want. Plan and plot. The idea is to build a closet in our apartment’s foyer to store coats, suitcases, books and bric a brac, in a space that I never really knew existed. All of that stuff is going where?

The next stop is more drawing. Measurements. Reams of paper with ideas included or abandoned. No major bridge or skyscraper plan could have more detail. And often a crisis. Something not panning out, on paper. Back to the drawing board. Back again.

Then getting supplies to Israel. In New Jersey we have work space. A basement. A garage. A driveway. Here we have an apartment. The major sawing would have to be done on the driveway in West Orange. The neighbors already know the sound of his power saw. It’s a familiar background noise in a quiet part of town. After all the deer and the wild turkeys are stone silent. The neighborhood fox slinks by wordlessly. The saw makes the street a bit more lively. And so the cutting is done in New Jersey.

Now, how does one transport all that wood from one country to another? Easy. We don’t take clothes. Suitcases packed with wood. I kid you not. Really, how much clothing does one need when the temperature outside feels like 100 F and probably is actually higher?

A day or two after arrival the work begins. Day and night. Every free moment. Time out for visits with friends and family. Time out to sample the newest eateries and see how the new supermarket is faring. Time out for shul. Work work work. And then, transformation.

A non existent area in our apartment is almost ready to be loaded with books, tsatskas, coats and suitcases. The frustrations are forgotten.The mess is almost cleaned up.

Kol ha kavod to the Jewish carpenter! Wishing him ad 120 in good health.

Just wish he’d be a better cleaner!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.