It’s nearly October, and despite the pandemic, time marches on. Days, weeks and months flash by like a mountain stream in spring whose melted snow cascades toward a rendezvous below. Just a short time ago, Jewish people celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — a holiday that brings joy and gaiety in sharp contrast to the next week, when Yom Kippur brings intense prayer, mourning and strong supplication that as we repent our sins, we may be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.
How different is this year. Because of the threat of the coronavirus, my husband and I did not join family. Most years we would be at my daughter’s home in New Jersey along with my son, grandchildren, favorite cousins, my son-in-law’s family. The table would be set with my daughter’s best china and glassware, candles and flowers. I would have brought homemade chicken soup with matzo balls, gefilte fish, brisket and assorted goodies. My daughter would have ordered a chicken entree, side dishes and desserts. My husband would have said the kiddush. Conversation would flow, good food and love melding in a flush of contentment and pleasure.
This year, my husband and I were alone, except for a short Zoom meeting to wish others a Happy New Year. We still had a festive dinner and my husband recited the kiddush, but the holiday was not the same. After dinner, I found myself thinking back not only to recent years, but to the celebrations of my childhood.
I had to go back more than half a century, to 1949. Harry S. Truman was president, the little haberdasher who ended World War II by authorizing an atomic bomb and who had won the 1948 election in perhaps the greatest upset victory in history.
The date is Saturday, Sept. 24, 1949. The family had gathered the previous evening, erev Rosh Hashanah, for a festive meal. It is a beautiful autumn day, filled with sunshine. My parents and my bubbe are in shul, just a block or two from home; my brother and I are permitted to visit them for a few minutes before being relegated to the street outside. My friends and I are in our holiday best. We walk up and down the block, showing off our finery, eventually stopping in one spot and joined by other children. We spend hours talking, laughing, often giggling, telling stories about school, our teachers, sometimes gossiping.
When my parents emerge from the synagogue, we all go home for a delicious luncheon — perhaps stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, tiny meatballs.
While the holiday itself is only celebrated over two days, the weeks before are filled with excitement. Because September also brings a new school year, my mother and I would shop for clothes, shoes, school supplies — a haircut. I would accompany my mother and bubbe to "the avenue," not Fifth Avenue in our circle, but the street where my mother shopped for food: the butcher shop, which also sold fresh chickens (the plucker seated in the back, his hands flying as feathers dance in the air); the bakery, for rye bread, pumpernickel and challah; the dairy store, for slabs of butter and cream cheese. We’d stop at the pickle man, who sold us sour pickles and sauerkraut from wooden barrels, pickled herring wrapped in newspaper alongside a container of onions in cream sauce.
Of course, my mother and bubbe baked their own cakes. My mother was famous for her honey cake, spongecake, rugelach, pineapple upside-down cake. Later, her Duncan Hines chocolate cake with Betty Crocker chocolate icing became famous — with age comes convenience.
I’m now a senior citizen — a euphemism for "old lady" — but I hold dear my childhood memories. Hopefully, the pandemic won’t get me, the Book of Life will inscribe me for a good year, and I’ll be writing next year about being with family and friends on Rosh Hashanah — literally and figuratively the "head of the year"!
Corine B. Lipset,
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