27th September 2020
Erev Yom haKippurim – the Eve of the Day of Atonement
I’m sure that we all have wonderful memories of shule on “Yomtov” and I would love to hear them!
My immediate thoughts are of Cardiff, South Wales, sitting in the balcony (best seats!) high above the congregation watching everyone and everything, cuddled up to my beautiful Mother. I was most impressed by my Daddy’s top hat and tails – de rigueur for the High Holidays – and the array of beautiful millinery surrounding the balcony like exotic flowers, bobbing as their owners chatted and occasionally prayed.
The strangely named Cathedral Road shule – named for the fact it was on the main road which led to the ancient Llandaff Cathedral – was an exceptionally beautiful synagogue. Wonderful dark wood, polished and buffed to a rich dark lustre, formed the seats, the surround of the Ark and the balustrades of the women’s balcony. My Daddy sat in the angled seats beside the Bimah, a place of respect that never stopped him looking up at my Mummy (and me) with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile of pride on his face.
Circumstance led me to many other memories, but surely above all others the rich wood and wonderful friends of Reading synagogue where my children grew up stands up above all others. It is thanks to open attitude of Reverend Sichel who led the Reading community that so many children learned to read from the Torah, to take part in the service and know who they are. The fun of the 45 minute walk down our country lane alongside the River Thames, over Caversham Bridge and in to town, all the way to Goldsmid Road, every minute filled with chatter. All three children children, Daniel, Gideon and Rachel, sat in the huge, elegant, dark blue Silver Cross Pram, inherited from Linda and Paul Krisman. It was always the same, Rachel, even at 2 years old, would insist upon walking, her little legs determined to keep up with our adult pace, Gideon would join her after a while and Daniel, the eldest, would sit in comfort, gathering his strength to play with Gary when we arrived at the synagogue. Memories of wonderful girlfriends, and the “mountainclimbing” when I used to climb up to place flowers on the parapet of the Holy Ark, much to the concern of Valerie Myers, when we decorated the synagogue for the festivals. The togetherness of the “Ladies Committee” in the hall and kitchen as we prepared the after service Kiddush or fed our children during the Yom Kippur service, despite our rumbling tummies! I can still remember exactly where everyone sat, who wore what and the warm, woody smell of history as I sat with my girlfriends following every word of the service, simultaneously watching our children welcomed on to the Bimah by Reverend Sichel, each child feeling totally at home.
Memories of the incredible friend, mentor and teacher and Rabbi Mickey Rosen z”l and “Yakar” in London where I learned a new and beautiful niggun on Yom Kippur and heard Zvi sing for the first time. That was the day that Mickey gave his approval of our obvious love.
And so to Jerusalem. Very different memories but warm and loving – from the tiny synagogue in Kiriat Moshe where Zvi held his Bar Mitzva, to Gilo with Zvi’s wonderful parents and a warm and caring community in that little synagogue set between a view over Bethlehem and a panorama of Jerusalem. This synagogue where it was irrelevant if you were Ashkenaz or Sefaradi, where students arrived in jeans and T-shirts and nobody batted an eyelid as long as they came, where all newcomers were welcomed with open arms. We used to go to Zvi’s parents for the meal before the fast and then stay over but after they passed away Zvi would walk the 6 kilometres through Beit Tsafafa and up the never-ending hill to Gilo, until it just became too difficult. The biggest difference between Yom Kippur in Israel and Yom Kippur in the Diaspora is the silence. That sense of quiet, a silent city, of a silent country as all traffic stops, honouring the Day of Atonement, of Yom haKippurim……. Well almost….. not totally the picture of serenity because the sound of children riding their bicycles all over the city whooping in delight definitely lightens the atmosphere!
My memories of community and friendship from those days still warm my heart. What about you? I would love to hear of your memories – let’s forget Covid-19, demonstrations and politics for once and think about sweeter, kinder days.
This time, not Kol Nidrei, the prayer that we sing to begin the fast, but rather the joyous music which ends the fast. Cantor Azi Schwartz sings Havdalah, the beautiful prayer which separates the difference between the festival and an ordinary day and of Shema Yisrael – Hear O Israel. You will hear the Cantor and the congregation repeat “Adonai Hu Elokim” The Lord is G-d, many times, just to remind us why we there! Finally, the sound of the shofar (the longest I’ve ever heard!) to open the heavens to our prayers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k_Orlkk9Ww
Gmar Hatima Tova – May you be inscribed in the Good Book.