In the Bible, the pel­i­can is described as a very, very lone­ly bird. The hedge­hog is described as a very, very lone­ly ani­mal. Nei­ther the pel­i­can nor the hedge­hog draw any con­clu­sions from this.

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 29:1NRSV)

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[1] char­i­ty; the hol­i­day in ques­tion is Rosh HaShana,[2] 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.”[3] 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”[4] — 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[5] 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[6] 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.

The Bible fre­quent­ly men­tions pun­ish­ment met­ed out by scor­pi­ons. Pre­sum­ably this is because scor­pi­ons would blast the speak­ers at max vol­ume and yell Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

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[7] 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.

In the Bible, the pel­i­can is described as a very, very lone­ly bird. The hedge­hog is described as a very, very lone­ly ani­mal. Nei­ther the pel­i­can nor the hedge­hog draw any con­clu­sions from this.

[1] Heb. to give,” to help.”

[2] Rosh ha-Shana — lit­er­al­ly the head of the year” in Hebrew.

[3] Trans. Olivye — a pop­u­lar Russ­ian sal­ad of may­on­naise with canned vegetables. )

[4] 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.”)

[5] Trans. Lit­er­al­ly New Year,” a Sovi­et-insti­tut­ed hol­i­day intend­ed to redi­rect Christ­mas-sea­son cel­e­bra­tions into a nation­al sec­u­lar holiday.

[6] Trans. A pop­u­lar Russ­ian online blog­ging platform.

[7] 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.