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Schmolie’s Shabbat

January 18, 2011

In Israel, the entire country rests on Shabbat.  There are fewer lights illuminating Jerusalem, few people are out on the streets.  The signs in the stores read “Closed for the Sabbath” in Hebrew and Arabic alike.  For an American from the land of 24 hour CVSs, the experience is surreal.   But, as Rabbi Yoshman explained to us over Shabbat dinner, Sabbath was hardly a punitive or restrictive day of shame and God-inspired fear.  Rather, the heart of Shabbat was creating a time for introspection, self-reflection and relaxation.  It was an evening of merriment, of talking and arguing and connecting and enjoying one’s fellow man.  And Shabbat was an evening of drinking.

I was sitting at my table, enjoying the scene.  It was hot, yet balmy in the evening, and the stars were out  I had finished my chicken schwarma and was debating whether to switch from the wine on the table to the grape juice for the rest of the evening.  Around the entire courtyard and open dining area, old men in kippahs were discussing politics with expansive hand gestures, women were attempting to feed squirmy children, other American birth-righters were playing guitar and doing a half improvised sing-along to Wonderwall and debating the merits of a midnight swim.  I was about to get up and clear my plate when I heard this bell-like voice behind me ask, “Can I have that?”

I turned around.  A small boy with dimples was standing there, his dark eyes wide, his little hands reaching towards the table.  He had the Orthodox side curls, and was wearing a black velvet yamaka and prayer shawl.  I recognized him as one of the rabbi’s sons.  He couldn’t be older than eight.  He smiled shyly at me.  He had an adorable smile.

“Can I have that?” he beseeched again in English, gesturing towards one of the two bottles on the table.

“Of course,” I said without thought, giving him the bottle to which he pointed.  He took it with both hands and eagerly wrapped his lips around the mouth of the glass.  I watched in astonishment as he, in one smooth and clearly practiced gesture, upended the bottle.  He was halfway through chugging its contents when I realized that this dear little boy wasn’t drinking grape juice.

I snatched the bottle away from him in shock.  He looked at me again, purple tingeing his lips.

“Heehee!” he giggled, and took off.  We all watched him as he ran to the next table, smiled beatifically, took the bottle automatically proffered by another birthright chump, and began to chug.  The rabbi’s son giggled loudly as the unfortunate enabler realized her mistake tried to take the bottle away from him, spilling wine onto both of them before disappearing in the night shrouded courtyard.

“You just gave wine to an eight-year old kid.  Way to go,” my friend joked.

“What kind of kid reaches for wine at that age?  I thought he wanted the grape juice!” I wailed.

“When he becomes a lush, it’s all your fault,” he intoned.

“I wonder how many tables he’s gotten wine from,” I said as I looked around the room with its twenty tables, each with a bottle of wine and grape juice prominently displayed.

Thirty minutes later, I got my answer.  I found him face-down, sprawled out comatose on the grass, his prayer shawl askew, his kippah knocked off his head and lying on the ground three feet away.  His mouth was still purple, and he was snoring loudly with a smile on his lips.

“Tsk, tsk.  Schmolie.”  His father had found him too and was looking at his tiny, drunk son with a smile on his face.  “Every single Shabbat, Schmolie. It isn’t terribly good for you, you know.”  He picked Schmolie up, and slung him over his shoulder in fireman style.  He kissed his son’s head, his long, black beard tickling the boy’s nose.

“He gets drunk every Sabbath?”  I queried, hoping I wasn’t being rude, glad that I wasn’t the only one who was conned into giving this kid booze.

“I think it’s a phase he is going through.  He likes it when we do Sabbath with Americans.”  And with that, the gave me a very un-rabbi-like wink.   Rabbi Yoshman leaned over, and still holding Schmolie, picked up his son’s yamaka.  He began to stride across the courtyard towards his wife and other six children.  Suddenly, he turned back to me.

“Happy Shabbat, Luca.”

And a happy Shabbat to you, Schmolie.  You rascally rabbi’s son, you.

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