I live encircled by an eruv—though for weeks it was invisible to my eyes. I would not have known what I was seeing, had I noticed it. I was simply living in a neighborhood I had chosen because it contained one of the few affordable houses for rent in Atlanta during the pre-Olympic profit frenzy of the summer of ’95.
My unobservant eyes were opened in October, when simple structures made out of plywood, covered in branches and decorated with small lights of the sort we Christians put on Christmas trees, appeared virtually overnight in most of the yards. For a week my Orthodox Jewish neighbors observed Sukkoth, the Festival of Booths. It is a harvest celebration, and a reminder that ancient ancestors lived in temporary shelters during their years in the wilderness after the escape from Egypt (Leviticus 23:33-43).
I became more watchful then, observing the parade of neighbors in large hats and long, black coats walking to the nearby synagogue every week on Shabbat (Sabbath). Hannukah brought bright menorahs to all the living room windows, and large gatherings around meals. I walked up and down my street often at night, watching from a distance, filled with a mixture of fascination and envy. I’m drawn to the sense of ritual, to the stability that seems evident, to the strong ties of tradition, family, and community.
My housemate Elizabeth and I have befriended 9-year-old Merissa from across the street, who helps Elizabeth with her seminary Hebrew homework. Merissa especially likes Purim, the festival of Esther, with a big costume parade every March. Last year she wanted to dress up as the Easter bunny. Her parents explained the problem with that, but allowed her to wear what she wanted and dubbed her the "Esther Bunny." It was a creative response, I thought, to the inevitable tension that arises between Jewish tradition and the surrounding culture.