The American Israelite
Who has not heard of the term “October surprise”? It seems that every presidential election year, people wonder if there will be an October surprise. The basic explanation for the term is a shocking event or revelation about a political candidate that will remain in the minds of people as they go to the polls to vote. As, by US law, the presidential elections take place “”the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November”, the October surprise can have a real effect on the outcome of the election.
While I had heard of the term over the years, I never researched the origin of the term. It comes out that Mr. William Casey — who would eventually direct the CIA from 1981 through 1987 — coined the phrase in reference to the 1980 presidential election. At the time, he was the campaign manager for then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Americans were hyper-focused on the Iranian hostage crisis and the Reagan campaign was afraid that President Carter would arrange for the hostages to be freed right before the election to boost his campaign. He spoke to the press and warned the nation that President Carter might be orchestrating a politically-motivated “October surprise” to create positive momentum for his re-election. Thus, the phrase was coined.
While 2021 is not a presidential election year, and most of us are not running for political office, it might behoove us to think of an “October surprise” in our own personal lives. The month of October begins just as the Jewish holiday season ends and it is very important to bring the inspiration of the holidays into the rest of the year.
There is a well-known chassidic tale about a young boy who would wake up every morning in the month of Tishrei and his father would give him special directives and instructions: “Today we hear the Shofar (Rosh Hashanah),today we fast (Yom Kippur) and today we shake the Lulav in the Sukkah (Sukkot).” When the holidays were over, the son innocently asked his father what he should do today. The father responded that he should unpack his suitcases. Seeing that the child was confused and was not comprehending his response, the father patiently explained:
“In pre-war Europe, merchants from all over the region would gather in a central location for the “Yarid – fair”. There they would sell their wares and buy whatever goods they needed. But, during the fair, one was too involved in the actual fair to spend time processing the purchases. Similarly, during the holiday season we collect all the “merchandise” from all the holidays, and when the holiday ends, we unpack and put into practice all that we have collected.”
The way that we are able to unpack the holiday season into our lives is by adding an Jewish “October surprise” into our home and family routine. Think of a Mitzvah that you would like to incorporate into the day-to-day schedule and routines of your life. This Mitzvah will connect you to the inspiration that we all felt during the festivals.
Think of this Mitzvah as the wedding ring that is worn after a wedding. What is the significance of a small — sometimes very expensive — ring? The ring encompasses in it all the deep emotion and commitment that the couple felt for each other at the time of their wedding. The ring is not a souvenir of the wedding, to remind the couple of that special day in their lives; rather it serves like a hard-drive to store all the true love and commitment that was expressed at the wedding under the Chuppah. When the honeymoon is over and the real stresses of life begins, the ring connects the couple to their true selves.
The Jewish people are in a true relationship with the Almighty. There are times — like the high holidays — when the flames of passion burn high and there are times that we are stuck in the stresses that life presents. It is specifically at those fragile moments in the relationship that we need to dig deeper and bring out our eternal love and commitment. By “wearing the ring” of the new Mitzvah that we added right at the beginning of October, we will always remain loyal, connected and inspired.
I encourage you to make this decision as a family unit. Gather your children together and explain to them that you would like to do something as a family that will show our true love and commitment to Hashem. Present a few different “styles of rings” (Mitzvos) and let the children be part of the discussion as to which style best fits your family. The results can be transformative, a true October surprise.