Jewish Journal

The Handy Hazzan Shares a Childhood Secret .... and teaches how to install a light timer

by Cantor Harris Shore, The Handy Hazzan

June 12, 2011 | 12:25 am

This morning (Thursday, June 9) many of us were in synagogue in observance of the second day of Shavuot, which is also one of our four Yizkor (memorial) days in the Jewish calendar.  We recite Yizkor on all three festivals - Sh’losh Regalim in Hebrew.  Specifically, Yizkor is said following the Torah and Haftarah readings on Yom Kippur, on the last day of Passover, on the second day of Shavout, and on the eighth day of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret). Some say we recite Yizkor on Festivals because of the vicious progroms that the Jews of Europe suffered during the Middle Ages.  And there is always a special prayer reserved in memory of the six million of our faith who perished in the Shoah during World War II.  This morning, memories of my beloved parents flooded my being.  I will share one of them regarding my mother, not at all because I favored her over Dad, but rather because something happened when I was very young that, believe it or not, has to do with “Do-it-Yourself.”  Or, maybe this lesson is DON’T do it yourself.  Anyway, this is a secret that I, the Handy Hazzan am about to share with you.

When I was a little boy growing up in our little town of Phoenixville – you read about it in my very first episode – my dear mother, Martha (z’l) used to let me watch while she took her long, thick black hair down at night.  Each time she let loose a bobby pin, she’d let it drop to the floor as another cascade of flowing ebony came tumbling softly upon her shoulders and down to her waist.  I was such a young boychick – no, that is not a Jewish child with gender confusion - that this recollection remains a vague, almost ethereal daydream. Yet this nightly event must have been mesmerizing, for it has sparked a recurring memory throughout my life. 

Decades after and until this day, whenever I see a paper clip on the ground, I pick it up.  I am compelled to pick it up.  Now, thank G-d I don’t need to collect paperclips in order to trim my office supplies budget, although it does recycle something useful and that’s a good thing.  I am still stumped as to why this particular dream – and the one when I was twelve where I rescued an incredibly beautiful dark-haired woman from a fire – IN MY DREAMS! – I wonder why these images stick in my psyche to this day.  When Mom was finished taking her hair down, she’d let me collect the bobby pins off the nubby carpet with a magnet she gave me.  (Hence, the paperclips all these years later?  I don’t know. ) What fun that must have been – and how vital was that evening bond with Mom. 

One day … and keep in mind I was four or five years old – one day I saw one of the clips - I mean bobby pins - that must have escaped me the night before.  Did I call “Mommy!?” I don’t know.  Why was I alone?  Was there a babysitter busy on a bathroom break? It must have been late morning or early afternoon. That solitary, glistening bobby pin was just lying there, almost directly beneath an electrical wall socket, staring at me.  I looked at the openings in the socket, looked at the two prongs of the bobby pin, and decided that this bobby pin – the one that got away – this bobby pin and that socket would be a perfect match.  My dad, Ralph (z’l) told me that the electrical charge from the pin when I jammed it in the socket threw me across the room.  Thankfully, I was able to let go before I became a roasted, little Hebrew national.  As we say in the kiddie vernacular ….. I gotta majuh owie.  My little hand and part of my arm was scorched…. and I learned the hard way … which is sometimes a good way, despite the pain.  Was this my first attempt at being an amateur electrician?  Oi!

It is so important in life to face and conquer our fears. Just as I Iearned to swim after almost nearly drowning and went on to swim down the coast of Zuma and Malibu on countless occasions … and become a lifeguard and certified Water Safety Instructor much later in life, so I in some smaller way overcame my fear of all things electrical. … with great respect in tact.  It reminds me of one of the Hebrew words for fear: Yira.  יָרֵא (yârê’). More precisely, Yirah is not just “fear.”  It is an awesome fear or trembling respect that we must have for G-d.  And in this case, the force of electricity you bet comes from The Almighty, although humans “discovered” and utilized what G-d already created. 

And so….. finally … The Handy Hazzan brings you an electrical “Do-it-Yourself” tip for the week, although a lesson in child-proofing the home would also be appropriate and maybe something we’ll cover at another time. (I know my parents were anything but neglectful, and I haven’t researched just how prevalent child-proofing was in the 1950s.)  Instead…. I am going to show you how I install an (electrical) wall timer.  In designing our carport/garage during our big outdoor makeover a few years ago, I purchased a pair of antique lanterns to put on the stone pilasters that flank the entry gate to our property.  I then ordered three hanging lantern replicas, each of which suspends at the front of each carport bay.  The automatic timer had been broken for longer than I care to admit, and this week I replaced it with a new one manufactured by Intermatic.  The very first thing I did was TURN OFF THE POWER AT THE BREAKER BOX.  On top of that, I took the extra precaution of using an electrical tester to prove that there was no power. The tester has two short wires with a little pin at the end of each.  You touch each of them to each of the two wires at the wall.  A light will go in the tester if there is power.  The light did not go on, so we were safe.  However, what if the tester wasn’t working?  I had my assistant, Roxy, stay away from the area and I threw the power on.  I used the tester again, and the light went on in the tester. I turned the power off again, and I was good to go to work.

View the YouTube link below to view the companion video for learning this “Do-it-Yourself” project.

When I visited my friends at West Side Wholesale Electric down on Beverly Blvd just East of LaBrea here in Hollywood, I learned that I had to have a very specific timer whose wiring was compatible for the two wires that I have coming out of the wall where I would be connecting the timer.  This is 120- voltage, and the timer had three wires…black, red, and blue.  I FOLLOWED DIRECTIONS, connecting the black wire from the timer to either of the two wires in the wall.  I wrapped the wire end from that black wire around the heavier gauge source wire and secured the union by twisting a wire nut on the two of them.  I then took the blue wire from the timer and connected it similarly to the other wire at the wall.  I capped the remaining red wire.  It is of no use in this application.  There was a remaining, copper colored wire attached o the timer, which is the ground wire.  I connected that to the same screw inside the electrical box that already had a thicker, copper colored ground from the source wiring.  I tightened the screw holding the thin and thicker copper wire. This is all you need to know to connect your timer.  The rest has to do with carefully stuffing the connected wires into the electrical box in such a way that there is room to house the body of the timer.  Once you have pushed the timer in as far as it will go, secure it to the electrical box with the two silver machine screws that are supplied with the timer.  If you are outdoors, be sure to cover the entire electrical box with an exterior metal housing with flip-top cover.  There is usually a place to put on a padlock.  Always follow the instructions when installing your timer ….or anything else.  It will save you time and more important it will insure your safety.  Test the timer by pushing the manual on/off to see that the electrical connection is good.  Then follow the directions to program your timer for when you want it to go on and shut off. I set ours to go on at Sunset and off at Sunrise.  (Hmmm … Sunset, Sunrise…. Catchy, no? Okay…needs a minor rewrite) Save electricity and money!  Use timers throughout your property.  Indoors, timers can be important when you are away.  Set them to go on and off at different times to give the appearance that someone is home. Tikkun Olam starts at home.  You can fix it! - HH



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CANTOR HARRIS SHORE most recently served as Hazzan for Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood, and for two years at the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging in Reseda...

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