Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Well-Deserved Honor, Litter, and Rushing to "Shopaholic"

On Sunday night, our synagogue community had a festive dinner honoring a young couple named Judith and Elie, who, over the last many years, have been instrumental to our delightfully thriving congregation in many ways.

They're known for their extreme "chesed," or kindness without expectation (for them, not even a thought) of repayment. They open their home to Jewish travelers passing through who need a place for Shabbat. The husband is the "gabbai," or MC of synagogue services. (the translation for that word is usually "beadle," but I'm not sure what that is...someone who beads? Just joking).

And together with a few other dedicated congregants, they've spent hundreds of hours working with experts to help set up an "eruv" or boundary around our community, an unbroken enclosure largely defined by power wires and steep inclines and existing walls that designates us together as one "domain" so that we can carry within it on Shabbat.

To the unaware, it seems rather weird, but keep in mind that Shabbat is all about emulating God's ceasing of creation--which then gives us a day to celebrate the world as it is, to enjoy family, to engage in spiritual rather than physical advancement. One of the types of "creative activity" we pull back from is commerce, the essence of which is transporting stuff from one domain to another.

Having an "eruv" lets mothers push strollers and carry infants to services and to visit friends nearby; it lets me carry a kleenex in my pocket as I walk the 2.7 miles to our synagogue in the frigid weather that causes a runny nose. And, most importantly, the eruv allows my husband to carry a bag for collecting litter.

Now we get to the point: Over the course of his trek to shul, my husband collects bags and bags of garbage. Each week. As he passes the park, he empties his bag in a trash can, and keeps collecting until he arrives. On his way home, he tidies the other side of the street.

This week after hosting some dear friends for lunch, we decided to walk with them the ten-minutes between our homes. After a rainy morning and a slate-dull day, the sun had finally slunk beneath the cloud cover for its final rays, casting a golden light on the dampened foliage. It was runny-nose cold, the kind when you keep your hands tucked in your pockets, and dip your cheeks beneath the upturned collar on your down jacket.

But not my husband--his left hand held a white plastic bag, and his right was free to grasp tossed water bottles and beer cans, coffee cups printed with wizened words, and their ubiquitous lids and straws. Walking by a school, my husband filled his kitchen can liner and two other supermarket plastic bags he found before encountering a bin to dump the heavy contents. A bourbon bottle, the remains of a bashed campaign sign, several glass juice bottles and various other detritus made his haul rival Santa's bulging stash.

What was I doing? I was on the look-out, pointing when I spied a a saturated kleenex, mud-filled soda can, half-buried packing peanut or soggy notebook leaf. Why didn't I pick up that yukky junk? On other occasions, I have. But dressed in Shabbat clothing on that shivery day, when I could converse with friends rather than fill a plastic bag with sludgy souvenirs...well...my husband was getting great exercise.

Why is all this remarkable? Because after he stooped and retrieved and shook slugs and stale beer out of cans; after he carried and dumped and refilled and got mud caked in his shoe-ridges; after a day depositing what must have weighed, all-told, more than two hundred pounds into trash receptacles...the NEXT DAY, those same streets were once again ripe for clean-up.

Fresh fast-food cups, new latte-discards, more tossed Coors cans and doughnut boxes and paper napkins. There they were, in our residential neighborhood, by the side of the road. Again.

Tonight we went to a screening of "Confessions of a Shopaholic," a contender for worst movie of the year. I didn't know as we drove that I'd soon say "get me out of here" at four particularly painful points during the unbearable film--the hype touted a hilarious romp through designer stores with which every woman identifies, if even in her fantasies. I was excited to be going to the screening, but we were late, and I wanted to be sure to arrive on time. Couldn't we just drive a tad faster?

Actually, no. My husband saw a MacDonald's cup and swerved. "Just grab that," he commanded. I unlatched my seat belt, thrust open the car door, lunged for the cup, which still held ice and orange soda. No trash can in sight; I got to hold it.

But we were late! And I'm into shopping! OK, my haunts may be Dollar Tree and Big Lots instead of Prada and Gucci--but a girl can dream! Must I rush into the screening holding a dirty cup?

No worries, I got to put the cup into the broken cup-holder while I dashed out after second swerve for a crumpled bag, cast alongside the park. And that is all there is to the story--another day, another bag of trash plucked from the side of the road.

But as long as we're talking about shopping, I'll let you in on the best birthday gift I ever gave my husband: his first "gopher" litter-pick-up tool. Along with it, I bought an orange reflective vest, to wear when he's refuse-cruising at night. I purchased some inch-and-a-half-wide reflective tape, and from it cut out the letters of his first name, which I glued to the chest-pocket area; on the back, I cut out and affixed the words, "Help me pick up litter."

That is not my husband in the photo, btw. But he does use that "gopher" every day except Shabbat, on which he tries to do things a little differently, grasping his booty with his bare hands. As for the vest, well, for the shopaholics among you, I think you just might be able to find it right now...at the thrift store.


  1. Sorry to hear about the movie. My husband and I were looking forward to seeing it. (He likes romantic comedies even more than I do.) Glad, though, to read more about your husband's good stewardship of the neighborhood. Littering is an big sin in our family, but picking up other people's trash is a chesed indeed.

  2. I still somewhat agree with your son's POV (I believe it was) that feels that picking it up just encourages more. But I still think it's great that you care enough to clean up your neighborhood, and having an eruv is huge in general. :)