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The Image of Summer

Mishpacha Staff

For some it’s the trek to the Catskills on Visiting Day. For others it’s the hidden blueberry patch. For some it’s heat so intense, it dwarfs all else. For others it’s the clock standing magically still. What’s your summer memory? Mishpacha’s contributors share theirs.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Exalted Misery

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

Living in Jerusalemnow for 22 years, I have forgotten what real summers are like. In Jerusalem, summers are summer in name only. Here, the months June-September are summer only on the calendar, but I can’t call them by the name “summer.” Granted, here and there are a few days of sharav and chamsin, but they are quite bearable. Remember, you are talking to someone who grew up inBaltimore before there was air-conditioning.

Baltimorein the 1940s and ’50s BA/C: now that was summer! June-September meant 16 weeks of chamsin and sharav — genuine, unadulterated, unfiltered, unmitigated, unmerciful, unrelenting heat. That was authentic humidity. That was misery. That was distress. What we have here inJerusalem is spring-summer and autumn-summer. But in no way is it summer-summer, the season of the hot old days that I remember.

It was so hot on summer nights in Baltimore, with the sweltering air shuffling in from the Chesapeake Bay, that the transit company would let you ride on their trolley cars from one end of the line to the other, as many times as you wanted, for one nickel. It was so hot that the High’s Ice Cream store chain would sell quarts of ice cream for 15 cents. Full quarts. And if 15 cents was too much, there was an enterprising fellow in his backyard who would shave blocks of ice, scoop up the shavings, place them in paper containers, and flavor them with strawberry or raspberry or lime — for three cents. They called them snowballs. If you wanted to splurge, he would pour chocolate syrup over it — for five cents. Nights were so hot that when we tried to sleep on our sweat-soaked beds, we didn’t even use electric fans, because the fans only blew more hot air across the room. Trying to sleep on rooftops or on the plastic lawn chairs out in the front yard didn’t help much.

This you call summer in Yerushalayim, where the highest temperature is occasionally in the low 90s, and at night goes down to the 70s, and there is no humidity, no dampness, and everyone has air-conditioning — even the little shtieblach where you pop in to daven Minchah?

Don’t even mention Yerushalayim summers in the same breath with the summers I perspired through, gasped through, choked through as a kid inBaltimore. That is an insult to the noble humidity the majestic distress the exalted discomfort and magnificent wretchedness of those long endless sleepless excruciating oppressive Baltimore nights — nights so unbearable that the mere recollection of them unhinges me and makes me disregard commas and causes me to use absurd and ill-fitting adjectives like noble majestic and exalted to describe them.

Now it can be told: when Thomas Edison said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, he must have been living inBaltimore.


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