So here we are in my favorite time of year - summer! Long days to enjoy the outdoors. No need to bundle up. Just bask in God's own heat, brought to you free of charge courtesy of the sun. Wherever you go children are playing. On the courts at West 4 Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan you always see teenagers engaged in spirited games of basketball. They haven't learned yet to pamper themselves and stay inside with the air conditioner going full blast. Being in my fifties, I sometimes think back on the summers we enjoyed a generation ago. And the key word was "enjoyed." There was a lot less uptightness then than now. Summer was a time to let our hair down. We would walk around and play ball in short pants, and listen to baseball games on "transistor radios" that operated on boxy nine-volt batteries. Air conditioning was still a luxury that only the wealthy could afford, and few of us were wealthy, so we boys stripped down at home to short pants and sleeveless undershirts. We had fans going (a whole lot cheaper to run than air conditioners, and more comfortable too) and windows wide open to let in the breezes. We'd sprinkle ourselves with baby powder (it absorbs sweat), and above all we drank like fish. The women (and I'm writing about Orthodox people here) actually wore sleeveless dresses; they called them "shifts." We boys went to shul and to Bnei Akiva meetings without jackets or ties. To be sure, there was a minority dressed in heavy black clothing, but they were few in number. We called them khnyocks
(can anybody tell me the origin of that Yiddish word?) and they didn't dare tell us what to do. And - imagine this - we went mixed swimming
at public beaches! My father a"h would close his store Sundays in July and August and, weather permitting, we packed a picnic lunch and went as a family to Manhattan Beach. Other Orthodox families were also there, without a trace of guilt or self-consciousness. I don't know what the books say, but I do remember the praxis
. As we got older, Bnei Akiva boys and girls would go on outings to the beach. We met one another. We talked. Physical attraction led to deeper attraction, and no one ever heard of a "shidduch
crisis." The incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and venereal disease in our community was as close to zero as such things ever get, which is a good indication that there was little if any illicit (i.e. premarital) sex going on.
And now, some 40 years later? I'm a fit, strong, lean athlete barukh Hashem
, and I tolerate the heat just fine, thank you. I have no need for artificial cooling, other than what fans provide. Fat is an insulator; it traps heat. Fat people shipwrecked in cold water are more likely to survive than similarly situated lean people, because they are less likely to become hypothermic. I go to shul without a jacket, except when I know that the air conditioner will be set too high. And if I get cold, I get up and leave. Bad enough I'm cold in winter; I refuse to be cold in summer (see my previous post
). I sprinkle myself with baby powder on hot mornings, I drink like a fish and I run around in short pants and a sleeveless top. Once in a while a khnyock
will give me the hairy eyeball; I couldn't care less. And I hear people complaining. Mostly fat people; what do they expect? I bring a thermometer to shul on Shabbat, and sometimes the temperature hovers around 70 degrees. What with electricity so expensive, all the guidebooks are telling us to set the thermostat no lower than 78, but our buildings still run the air conditioner as if electricity was free. On Shavu'ot
my shul made a Yizkor
appeal for the summer upkeep of the shul, i.e. for running the air conditioner. My Yizkor
contribution went elsewhere.
Ah, summer. The heat, the sun, the fun. I only wish that it could last forever.
Labels: air conditioning, basketball, haredim, health, Modern Orthodox, Running, Shavu'ot, sports, strength