I pretend our carport is private property, but really anyone traversing the busy alley alongside our apartment building can see whatever we do in our parking space. On the Sunday after Purim, two of my kids and I were out there cleaning our car for Pesach.
One friend stopped to confess she too was already cleaning for Pesach, then several other people dropped by to day: “Wow, you are such a tzaddekes!” and “You are SO on top of things!”
I saw their narrowed eyes. They really meant: Trying to show the rest of us up, eh? It doesn’t take a month to clean for Pesach!
Honestly, I’m not a tzaddekes, and I can’t claim to be on top of things—at least, not all “things.” However, over the years, I have learned (the hard way, trust me) that any car not cleaned far before Passover will end up being cleaned the night of bedikas chometz in a last-minute, anxiety-inducing frenzy.
I tried explaining this to the people who stood around discussing my newly-cleaned car, but they looked doubtful. Instead, they accused me of being a Yekke.
For those who have not heard the term Yekke before, it refers to a person of German, or at least German-speaking, descent. It implies precision, cleanliness, timeliness, and being just a little uptight.
I’m not truly Yekkishe, I promise you. My mother is only half Yekkishe—due to both her grandfathers—and my father is less than a quarter. None of my relatives (okay, one cousin) have a reputation for promptness or any other supposedly Yekkishe trait—even my identical twin. Yet, somehow, I get the Yekke label a lot.
I think it started because I like to be prompt. When someone makes an appointment at 1 p.m., I take them at their word and show up right at 1 p.m. Often, I am greeted with astonishment, as if my presence is entirely unexpected. When scheduling an engagement at a restaurant or coffee shop, I have by now realized that I will be spending 5 to 15 minutes cooling my heels before anyone else appears.
Why not show up “fashionably late” or “on Jewish time” like everyone else? Because then I would be late. [Insert shudder here.]
The upside for this is that my occasional tardiness is generally overlooked. More often than not, the other person shows up even later. And if they are on time, usually they say, “It’s okay. I figured you hit traffic or something.” (This is, L.A., after all.)
The reality is that despite my lists and schedules and predilection for order, my house is never clean or streamlined enough for me, I never reach the bottom of my to-do list, and my life does not operate with the smooth, mechanical precision of a Swiss clock.
This gets to the real difference between most non-Yekkishe people and me. When they see true Yekkishe middos in action, they think: unfriendly, pretentious, rigid. When I see true Yekkishe middos in action, I think: I want to grow up and be that!
My aspirations are likely to remain unfulfilled until my kids are grown and out of the house, although I might let the one who shares my talent for promptness to stay—if he redoes all his drawers à la Marie Kondo.
(PS—After I finished writing the rough draft of this column, I thought to myself, Maybe I shouldn’t toot my horn. I’m gonna get an ayin hara.)
(PPS—Guess who was late picking up the kids from school on Friday?)