Who ever had Thanksgiving in the month of September? The answer is the American pilgrims. It is said they got the idea for the harvest celebration from the Bible story that described an ancient Jewish harvest festival called Sukkot.
This story is woven against the setting of Sukkot. Complications arise when Allan (age ten) and his sister, Molly (almost thirteen), resist celebrating this tradition because their grandparents have moved to a retirement village in Arizona. The family decides to bring the holiday all the way across California. That means they have to load unusual things on top of their van. They are a strange sight as they drive across the majestic San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.
Allan’s challenge expands when he is given a Sunday school assignment to perform four random acts of loving kindness in four days. He has trouble understanding that “mitzvah” is a Jewish word that refers to doing an unexpected good deed that can help enrich the lives of people.
In the long, tiring car trip, the family encounters a homeless stranger, a family who is forced to live in their car, a senior citizen whose car crashed into a storefront, and a man in Room 10B who is grouchy and does not come out of his room even for meals.
A Latino girl and a Jewish girl find out how much they share in common in spite of their differences. The children’s intergenerational and multicultural experiences set the stage for a series of “mitzvahs” that have far-reaching consequences.
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By Norma Slavit
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Norma Slavit
All rights reserved.
Remembering an Ancient Tradition
When Mr. Green took his family out to the toolshed one Friday morning in late September, it was not to get tools. He unlocked the metal door to reveal six large pieces of plywood. Each board was about four feet across and almost seven feet tall. The old boards were warped and worn.
Allan was ten, but when he was younger, he thought his dad planned to use the boards to make his sister and him a tree house. "No," his father had replied under a little laugh, "these boards are for something much more important to the entire family." Allan wondered what could be more important than a tree house. He soon found out.
Once every year, the six wooden boards were carefully removed from the shed and used to build the walls of a little hut called a sukkah (su-kah). Two boards made one wall. Inside the sukkah the Green family celebrated the ancient Jewish harvest holiday called Sukkot. (Su-coat). With help from Grandma and Grandpa Green, setting up the old sukkah and making it look fresh again was a project that had become a family tradition.
A warm September breeze enveloped the Green family as they stood in front of the shed looking at the boards. Thoughts of the past flashed through Allan's head. He liked decorating the sukkah best of all. Family, friends and some of the neighbor children often came over to help. Walls of the three-sided structure were joined and wooden slats, spaced about two feet apart to let in the light, were put on top and then loosely covered with tree branches. Fruit, vegetables, flowers and colorful loops were hung on ropes that dangled down from the slats on top. Pictures and other things decorated walls of the little hut. When a breeze blew between the closely hung fruit and vegetables, the wind carried on its wings the sweet, fragrant smells that blended in wonderful ways. The pleasant aroma filled the small sukkah and wafted outside, inviting all to enter.
Allan and his sister Molly tried to plan original decorations each year. When they asked Grandma Green for suggestions, she often repeated their question with another question.
"You ask me what you should use to decorate the sukkah?
"Yes Grandma," repeated Molly. "What should we use?"
"What should you use? Why, use your imagination."
Each year their imaginations got better and so did the sukkah.
The Green family stood in front of the shed thinking about the past and sharing memories. Molly, who was almost thirteen, broke the silence.
"If the holiday occurred on a warm California night, I remember bringing my sleeping bag in there."
"It was kind of like camping out for seven days," Allan added.
"Having a sukkah in the yard was like having our own little secret place."
Mother added her memories. "Does anyone remember the nights when we had dinner in our sukkah?"
"I sure do," answered Mr. Green. "We brought out our little table and a few folding chairs and then we ate the great treats you prepared. There were so many good smells," recalled Mr. Green. He filled his lungs with fresh air pretending to inhale the sweet scent of her cooking once again.
"How did we ever make something so pretty out of these tired old pieces of wood?" asked Allan shaking his head in wonder.
There was an uncomfortable silence as the family stared at the pieces of wood. Something important was missing. They all felt the loss, and no one was in the mood to celebrate.
"I know what's missing this year." It was Allan who spoke up. "What's missing is Grandma and Grandpa Green. "Sukkot won't be the same without them. Why did they have to leave us?"
Mr. and Mrs. Green tried to explain that their grandparents had moved to Arizona for their health and to live in Happy Haven Village, a senior retirement community.
"What will Grandma do without a sukkah?" Allan asked.
"What will they do without us?" replied Molly.
"Just not fair." Allan shifted from one foot to the other. "If Grandma can't be here with us, then I don't want to celebrate Sukkot this year at all! Count me out."
"Allan is right for once," said Molly. "After all, Sukkot is a Jewish holiday and a family tradition. If we can't all be together, what's the point of celebrating? Count me out too. I have too much homework anyway."
"Ditto," agreed Allan. "And that's final."
"Hold on there, just one big minute," said Father. "What is this? Some kind of a kid conspiracy?"CHAPTER 2
We can't break a family tradition just because you say so. On the other hand, you just gave me a good idea," said Mr. Green. "How would you like to do a mitzvah?
"Mitzvah?" asked Allan, "I remember hearing that word in Sunday School. Our teacher just gave us a mitzvah homework assignment. Before returning back to class next week we have to do at least three mitzvahs and share them with the class. I am not even sure what a mitzvah is. What is a mitz-vah anyway?"
"It's doing something really nice and unexpected for someone," responded Molly. "When you do a mitzvah, you get this wonderful tingling, happy feeling inside your chest. It warms your entire body, and then ends up on your face in a big smile."
"What a nice way of putting it, Molly," said Mrs. Green. "A mitzvah, Allan, is what Molly just described. It's an act of loving kindness, a good deed that no one expects."
"Then I do a mitzvah every time I set the dinner table," concluded Allan.
"Are you kidding Allan? Of course not," began Molly. "Setting the table is your job as part of the family. Just like my job is to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Do you get the difference?"
Father continued, "How would you like to do a wonderful mitzvah for someone we all love?"
"What kind of a mitzvah?" The words flew quickly out of Allan's mouth before he gave his father a chance to answer. "A mitzvah for who? And when?"
"If Grandma and Grandpa Green can't be here this year to celebrate with us, let's think of a way to bring the sukkah to them," Father replied.
"My thought, exactly," agreed Mrs. Green. "What a wonderful mitzvah that would be for Grandma and Grandpa!"
"Wow, that would make them so happy. Good idea, Dad," said Molly.
"Remember, our ancestors carried their little huts across the desert hundreds of years ago," Mother continued. "Surely we can find a way to carry our sukkah across California."
On that afternoon, in front of the toolshed, a decision was made. Mr. Green's plan was to drive the family van to Arizona. It was big enough to sleep the entire family if they couldn't find lodging. Molly and Allan's school was on a semester break. It seemed a perfect time to take a little trip. Father explained that if they left right away, they would arrive in time to celebrate the holiday with Grandma and Grandpa.
"Who wants to bring our sukkah to Grandpa and Grandpa?" father asked.
"Count me in, one hundred percent," Molly shouted out.
"I can start packing right now," responded Allan.
"That's the spirit kids. If we are going to make it in time for Sukkot and return back in time for school, we must pack now. Can everyone get ready to leave in two hours?"
"Did you say we only have two measly little hours?" asked Molly with a puzzled look on her face.
"Remember, Molly, you don't have to pack much for one week," replied Father. Well, can we do it in two hours or not?"
When Mr. Green turned around for his answer, everyone had already rushed back to the house. "I guess I got my answer," Father said to himself.
In less than two hours, the family bags were packed and loaded in the car.
Father asked everyone to come back to the toolshed. Carefully, one by one, he took out the six boards. Allan helped carry them to the car so Mr. Green could stack the boards on top of the van. Next, Mrs. Green cut some long branches from the garden trees. Molly and Allan helped bring the branches to the car. Mr. Green loaded the branches on top of the van, and then used special cord and heavy ropes to secure the strange-looking load on top.
A phone call was made to Happy Haven Retirement Village to say they would arrive in two days then everyone piled into the van.
Before they pulled out of the driveway, Mr. Green called out a list of last-minute items to take on the trip. Mrs. Green checked them off one by one.
"First-aid kit?" Mr. Green called out.
"Check." said Mrs. Green.
"Check," replied Mrs. Green. "It's in the back."
"Check," said Mrs. Green. "One ice chest with lots of snacks inside."
"Check," replied Allan.
"Maps of California and Arizona?
"Check," Mrs. Green called back.
"Check," Molly and Allan called out.
"Trombone?" added Allan.
"What did you say?" asked Father.
"Just kidding," said Allan. "Guess I won't have to practice my trombone for a week then."
"Boom box," Mr. Green called out.
"Check," said Molly. "Don't worry, Dad, wherever I go, my boom box goes with me."
"Why is it called a boom box?" asked Allan. He turned to his sister for an answer.
"I don't know," replied Molly. "It's a radio that has a place to play my tapes. It also has great speakers that really boom out the music. Do you want to hear how loud it can play right now?"
Mother turned around quickly. A stern frown swept across her wrinkled forehead as she looked Molly straight in the eyes. Allan knew that look. Mother didn't say a word. When she stared in that special way, Molly always got quiet. So did Allan.
"That's it then," said Mr. Green. "Fasten your safety belts. Here we go!"CHAPTER 3
Crossing the Majestic Golden Gate
The family van traveled down the city streets that led to the bridge approach. Crossing the majestic Golden Gate Bridge they saw San Francisco's skyline stretched out in front of them, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, like a royal blue carpet. No matter how often they crossed the bridge, it was always a breath-taking experience.
When they were half-way across the bridge, Allan rolled down his window and stuck out his head. On a clear day, they could see colorful sailboats gently bobbing up and down beneath the beautiful San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Today, the fog was just beginning to roll in and only the top of the tall skyscrapers could be seen.
"Pass me the camera, Mom. I want to take some pictures," said Allan. "Slow down, Dad. I want the ride on the bridge to last as long as possible. Arizona here we come," Allan yelled out of his window. Air rushed in through the open window carrying a scent of salt water from the ocean below. Allan liked the cool breeze that whipped across his head. The wind stung his face and parted his hair in funny places.
"How high up are we?" he asked.
"About 200 feet," Mr. Green answered.
In the distance, Allan could see San Francisco. As they got closer and closer, the tops of skyscrapers poked out above nests of fluffy white clouds. Allan felt like he was in the middle of a beautiful picture post card.
"Look over there to the left," Allan pointed excitedly. "There's the famous pyramid building." Allan's finger nearly missed Molly's nose. "From here, it looks like an upside-down ice cream cone."
"Watch that finger," Molly warned. "Mom, tell Allan it's rude to point."
"I think you just did that dear," Mother answered without turning around.
"After we cross the bridge, can I pay the toll booth lady?" asked Molly.
"Yes Molly," Father replied. "You are on the side where I pull up to the toll booth. Allan can pay on the return trip." Father gave Molly some money and drove up to the toll booth.
"Have a nice day," said the women as she received the money. "You have a nice day too," said Molly.
"We're on our way to Arizona," yelled Allan from his side of the car.
"O.K. we can close the window now," said Father.
"The way things are changing," Mother added, "some day I wouldn't be surprised if they eliminate the toll booth workers, and people will just drop the money into a fee box."
Before Allan closed the window he yelled out once more. "Arizona here we come," he called to the passing cars.
In the next lane, a man beeped his horn and pointed to the top of their car. Before they were all the way across, they heard another horn. Then another.
"Why are they beeping at us?" Allan asked. "I guess it's because we look strange with our stuff on top of the van," he answered his own question.
"We do look weird with all the stuff on top of our car, and please stop yelling out the window, Allan. It's embarrassing." Molly nudged Allan's arm.
"Cut it out," complained Allan. "Mahmmmm. Molly hurt my arm."
Mother turned around abruptly to give her children the "are you looking for trouble look."
Trouble was coming, but it would not be from Mother.
* * *
After driving for what seemed like a long time, Father made the first stop.
"Let's get out, stretch our legs and go to the restroom. This looks like a good place to fill the van with gas," he said. Allan noticed a group of people that had gathered about one hundred feet away. He asked if he could walk over to see what was going on. "As long as you come right back," Mother told him. "This will be a short stop. We want to drive as far as possible before it gets dark."
Allan made his way down the road where a large group had assembled. As he got closer he noticed they were standing around shaking their heads. Allan tried to make his way to the front of the crowd. It was then he noticed broken pieces of glass covering the sidewalk. His heart started racing fast when he saw what everyone was staring at. It was something he had never seen before. A car had crashed into the store window and Allan could hear the driver moaning from inside the car.CHAPTER 4
A Good Deed/Mitzvah Number One
Broken glass shards were scattered everywhere. Allan tried to avoid stepping on the slivers of jagged fragments. The front window of the car was smashed, and the store window looked like a sledge hammer had broken it into pieces. The driver held his head in his hands and moaned.
"I'm so sorry," the driver repeated over and over again.
Bill, the store manager, helped the driver out of the car. "You sure are lucky, you don't seem hurt," he said.
"My head hurts a little," the driver said.
"Here, take my arm. We'll go inside the store, and I'll get you a nice glass of water." Bill took the man inside and got him a chair. Allan followed.
"It was an accident," the driver repeated over and over again. "I am so sorry. The tow truck is on its way now to move my car."
Allan noticed the man was shaking a little. "Is there anything I can do for you, mister?"
"A little more water please." Allan filled the man's glass with water from a bottle Bill had opened.
"What am I going to do?" asked Bill. He shook his head and began to sweep up the glass. Allan found another broom and helped.
"So glad you are not hurt," said Bill. " But now I have a broken window."
"Don't worry," said the driver as he opened his wallet. "Here, this money should pay for the window." He handed Bill some money.
"That is not what worries me," said Bill still shaking his head. "There is no one around to fix my window for two or three days. I can't stay open with a broken window and I can't close the store either."
Suddenly a voice said, "We can fix your window."
Everyone turned around to see where the voice came from.
It was Allan.
"We have two large pieces of plywood that can cover that hole," he said. "Come outside where my Father is. He can help you."
Bill took Allan's hand and they walked over to the van. Mr. Green met them half way. "Why did you disappear?" he scolded Allan. "We have lost a lot of time waiting for you."
"Hold on there, sir. Before you pick on this here young man. I want you to know what a fine boy you have," Bill said. "By the way, Bill's my name," he began. "I had no help in my store today, and I don't know what I would have done without him." Bill waited for Mr. Green to calm down before he continued. "There's been an accident, and this fine lad told me you have a piece of plywood the size of my broken window. Think you can fix it?"
Bill pointed to the side of the store where a man driving a tow truck was towing the car away from the broken window. They watched the truck drive away pulling the car behind it.
Once Father realized how serious the situation was he replied, " Sure, Allan and I will be glad to help. But first, let's untie the ropes and get the plywood off the top of our van." Mr. Green led the way back to his vehicle. "I will get my tool box and have that hole covered in no time."
"Thanks a lot," said Bill as he helped Mr. Green nail the last piece of wood in place over the broken plate window. "That will do just fine, until the glass man can get here."
Bill shook Mr. Green's hand firmly and then reached out to shake Allan's hand. "How much do I owe you for the wood and your kindness? And, by the way, I want to pay your son for his help, too."
"No need to pay for kindness," began Mr. Green. "We are glad we were here to help."
"Well, that's mighty nice of you," said Bill. "But at least let me pay your son. You have no idea what a big help he was to me."
Allan looked at Father, then at Bill. "No need to pay for kindness," Allan echoed Dad's words.
Excerpted from September Thanksgiving by Norma Slavit. Copyright © 2016 Norma Slavit. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Remembering an Ancient Tradition, 1,
Chapter 2 The Plan, 3,
Chapter 3 Crossing the Majestic Golden Gate, 7,
Chapter 4 A Good Deed/Mitzvah Number One, 10,
Chapter 5 Quick Thinking/Fast Action, 12,
Chapter 6 Blythe RV Park, 14,
Chapter 7 Maria's Secret/Two Girls Bond, 18,
Chapter 8 Welcome to Happy Haven, 22,
Chapter 9 The Man in Room 10B, 26,
Chapter 10 Surprise, Surprise, 28,
Chapter 11 The Big Party, 31,
Chapter 12 Best Friends, 36,
Chapter 13 Goodbye Happy Haven/Farewell Arizona, 38,
Chapter 14 To The Reader/Letters To A Pen Pal, 41,