Enjoy this sneak peek of the 2022 issue of Paper Brigade! A second vignette by Linor Goralik will appear exclusively in the print issue, which will be published this winter. Preorder your copy today!
“You shall not work at your occupations,
It is a day for you to blow the trumpets”
(Numbers 29:1, NRSV)
At the big Jerusalem supermarket, a boy and girl with two shopping carts of products wheel over and ask if you’ll buy something for the holiday, for families in need. The girl and boy work for the Latet charity; the holiday in question is Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, the one holiday besides Passover that even the most stubbornly atheist Soviet dissidents knew about for some inexplicable reason. In Judaism, there are four new years, lest anyone get too comfortable; but Rosh HaShana is the most important one, and people in Israel take its observance very seriously. Two vacation days, family dinners, “We don’t usually prepare food, but for Rosh HaShana Pavlik’s making olivye.” The general mood is elevated and somewhat tense, because what follows are the Ten Days of Atonement, and then the final flourish — the Day of Judgment, when You-Know-Who in the heavens writes your fate in the Book of Life. That’s why, before Rosh HaShana, everyone’s already wishing you “a good inscription” — just like back in your youthful hippy days, except now you’re sober and you know who you’re dealing with. To get a sense of how this plays out emotionally, imagine: there you are, Novy God is here, you’re ready to ring it in with all the bright lights: there’s a storm outside, your wife’s lost her curling iron and can’t go anywhere, the damn car won’t start; then off to the dacha near Moscow, beauties and ravines; olivye, Napoleon cake, more olivye, three bottles shared by seven people, in the morning Lusya’s begging everyone not to share the photos on ЖЖ because she’s got cellulite on her ass and she’s Friends with her mother-in-law. And then — bam! — you’re offered ten days to seriously think about how you’ve behaved. That is, in light of the upcoming Divine Decision regarding your fate. This, you know, adds a hard kick to your New Year’s celebration. Happy New Year, a good inscription.
Before Rosh HaShana you’d really like to do some good deeds, but there’s no time — you’ve got to argue with the mother-in-law “at your place or ours?” and clean the dog hair off the lawn because, no matter what, it’ll be at ours. Happily, many goodwill groups bear some of the organizational burden. Let’s take, for example, that same Latet: buy something useful-looking at the supermarket, pay for it at the register along with the rest of your things and put it in a special box. “Let’s buy the poor people a box of candy — that gold one, 100 shekels! Poor people never get golden candies for 100 shekels! It’ll make their holiday!” — “Why do poor people need candy? Buy them 100 shekels of rice. Or flour, potatoes. Sugar.” — “Would you want to get 30 kilos of potatoes for New Years? Think for a second — would you want to get 30 kilos of potatoes?” — “Excuse me, miss! You work for this organization. Tell me, do the poor need 30 kilos of potatoes?” — “Why are you asking me? What am I, your conscience?” In the end the poor get three electric toothbrushes; and whoever reads some subconscious expression of cleaning your conscience into this is just cynical. The confused do-gooders run off like timid deer. Thank you, Happy New Year, a good inscription.
For the New Year people eat fish heads, pomegranates and apples in honey (for fertility, sweetness). Apples in honey is a special Israeli sport, an annual gourmet competition between cafes, restaurants, bars, old housekeepers and young foodies. Beef shoulder with apples in honey. Appletini with honey, immensely strong and sticky. Olivye, Russian olivye au naturel with apples and honey. Apples n’ honey tea, holiday special edition. Sushi with finely-chopped apples, caramelized in honey. Diaper rash cream for kids, apple-honey scented. “Mama, why does Mirka’s butt smell like cake?” — “So you’ll all have a lovely holiday, kids!” Ladies at the office organize a culinary Olympics (under the selfless guise of wanting to celebrate the holidays together), bring each other to tears, losing sleep over baked goods. In the office of some high-tech company, a sign on the fridge: “Dear colleagues! We kindly ask you to leave any holiday cakes and other dishes on the big table anonymously, in order to avoid conflicts in the workplace.” But the women won’t be so easily dissuaded. “Oh, vegan pie with organic apples and hand-harvested Grecian honey! That vegan pie recipe, could you…” Resist — and you’ll get a mouthful. “I’d adjust the recipe, and then it would actually taste good!” Dr-r-rama. And then everyone will walk from cubicle to cubicle, think about their actions and apologize. Thank you, Happy New Year, a good inscription.
In those pre-New Year days, the Wailing Wall is so packed with people that the bus drivers, in the process of maneuvering around the diminutive driveway in front of the metal detector area, first share their breakfasts through their windows, then lunch, then dinner. A Ukrainian supermodel on crutches rummages through the prayerbooks stacked right by the Wall, model husband and model mom supporting her by the elbows. A thin kid approaching the Wall quickly pops chips into his mouth under the mocking gaze of his armed older brothers in uniform. A litter of little schoolgirls dressed in identical t‑shirts reclines on the warm evening stones and diligently writes notes with wishes for You-Know-Him, zealously hiding the papers with their palms. Two Ethiopian teenagers take turns boosting one another up to get their notes in a higher crack, stifling laughter. An American family lays out its lunch on a car hood, the baby propped up dangerously close to a box of cookies. A full-figured woman, prayed-out, walks away backwards, as is customary, straining to look over her shoulder — and the bony, deerlike cat in her arms also looks back at the plaza, not the Wall, diving down with her owner’s every step as though she were surrounded by ocean and up ahead was the shore. This time of year is a time full of hope; this dot on the globe — a dot, full of hope; the closer you come to the Wall, the more detectable these waves of hope with their thick evening waters, and as you float from the shore to the Wall, and then back from the Wall to the shore, it must be said, you grow very tired. The shore is so very steep — stairs leading endlessly upwards, you scale them, drained, sit on the stones, and the town madman starts making circles around you with his tambourine, crying in Hebrew “Good inscrip-tion! Good inscri-ii-i-ption” to the tune of some old Soviet children’s song about ‘a most wonderful sun, a most wonderful stump.’
And the day is, admittedly, pleasant; and the stump, overall, isn’t so bad. Not the biggest stump, no; somewhat splintery, it’s true; wobbles a bit — it is what it is. But considering the big picture — it’s not a bad stump at all.
Thank you, Happy New Year, a good inscription.
 Heb. “to give,” “to help.”
 Rosh ha-Shana — literally “the head of the year” in Hebrew.
 Trans. Olivye — a popular Russian salad of mayonnaise with canned vegetables. )
 Trans. Finding a vpiska (literally: ‘inscription’) refers to 60s Russian youth slang of securing a place to ‘crash’ overnight. In Jewish well-wishing, the “inscription” is to be written in the Book of Life. Ambiguously, this could be like saying “on the books.”)
 Trans. Literally “New Year,” a Soviet-instituted holiday intended to redirect Christmas-season celebrations into a national secular holiday.
 Trans. A popular Russian online blogging platform.
 The Wailing Wall is the western wall of the destroyed Jerusalem temple, one of the major sacred sites of Judaism. There is a big plaza in front of the Wall with two prayer sections: one for men, one for women.
The original Russian story was published with the support of the The Avi Chai Foundation.