My family walked to our shul on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx.
Dad (z”l) carried his blue velvet, gold trimmed tallit bag, wearing his matching kippah under his hat.
Papa (z”l) and the male cousins and uncles always left before us. The womenfolk and kinder followed. I accepted this parade formation as part of a religious practice of some sort. It never occurred to me, womenfolk had to clean up after the menfolk, hence we were relegated to the back of the parade.
Mom, the fashionista, wore her little round, beige lace head-covering with its sweet little grosgrain bow on top, and her black Persian lamb coat or her mink stole, a sign of success among the working class.
White Mary Janes with lacy white socks, for the little girls. When we reached elementary school, it was black patent leather Mary Janes, with white lacy socks.
Richly colored velvet or sateen dresses with enough fabric to twirl until we got so dizzy we looked drunk, or until one of our moms walked into the lobby of the shul where we were performing for each other and gave us “the look.”
The mommy looks: Our secret weapon. Mr. President are you listening?
Most important on the High Holidays for us kids were those colored cardboard tickets.
Blue tickets were the most precious; they indicated seats up front. Green ticket seats were way in the back, not as valuable.
As soon as tickets were checked by the 100-year-old guard, grownups disposed of said tickets, tossing them hither, thither and yon.
Those who were neat freaks placed their tickets on an empty seat. We would politely whisper “excuse me” as we silently wormed our way in and out of those very same seats; first upstairs in the women’s section and then downstairs in the men’s section, deftly pocketing those precious yom tov (holiday) tickets.
A grown up’s trash is a child’s precious treasure.
If, G-d forbid, we were disrespectful of those in deep prayer – pushing, fighting, not being polite – we could feel “the look” emanating from our moms, burning a hole in our psyche.
Our family was so large, we were our own “neighborhood,” celebrating all the Jewish holidays together. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, our pretend cousins, aunt and uncle, and their grandparents. Although I went to Yiddisheh shul (Jewish afterschool) we did not study prayer. Whatever we knew was what we heard and repeated phonetically from our elders. Therefore, I had no idea on earth what was going on.
However, watching the men on the bimah in the middle of the shul facing the ark, in which the sacred Torah we kept, davening with such grace and fervor, always gave me the chills and made me feel proud to be part of this special community, my community. The sound of prayer, the melodies, the combined voices of men and women in their cries to a G-d they could not see, carried me to a space where, in those moments, I believed.
Kol Nidre, a prayer signaling the start of Yom Kippur, is hypnotic.
Today our immediate family of 20 recreated our own “neighborhood,” albeit a bit larger geographically, and also celebrate with delicious meals. We still dress in special shul outfits. I wear my beloved black Mary Janes for grownups, with four-inch heels. No socks!
Some things, however, are different.
Today some of us are at the Chabad Center. Not a colored ticket in sight. Some of us are at [congregations] Gesher L’Torah and Dor Tamid.
Curiosity led me to study; I have a clearer insight to the need for prayers. When I am asking for forgiveness, I understand with all my heart, our world needs our help, our forgiveness.
I pray today’s children, in their special richly colored outfits, some with Mary Janes, most not, all playing outside or experiencing the holidays together in their own ways, will one day be able to say, “we understand.”
Of one thing I am certain; no one ever forgets that “look.” Truth to power; I have developed excellent “look” skills.
Thank you (a sheynem dank) to all my elders who have already passed, for their strong shoulders, carrying me to adulthood. I am eternally grateful and blessed by my four girls, all women of valor, for their constant support and unconditional love as I travel along life’s highway experiencing all its twists, turns and recalculations.