Memories of High Holidays from long ago

For me, the best thing about our High Holiday season is memories: the ones we treasure from long-ago times, and the new ones we create. Here are some of mine:
When I was a high-schooler, my mother and I would walk together every year for Kol Nidre. (Dad wasn’t a shul-goer; his own memories of knuckle-cracking teachers when he was a boy in cheder left him with a permanent avoidance of rabbis.) Mom had an interesting habit: saving all the Shanah Tovahs she had written, addressed, and stamped before Rosh Hashanah and during the 10 days after, take the pile with her on Erev Yom Kippur, and drop them into the mailbox at the end of our street. “It’s still the New Year,” she would always say. Nearing home on our way back, we would pass the adjoining houses of my father’s sisters and their families, who were as non-observant as he. They’d be sitting on their front porches, waiting and would stand as we passed by to ask us if we wanted to come in for a cup of coffee! Hospitality, irony, or pure ignorance — I’ve never been sure.
The idea of fasting was carried to extremes in our shul, where a heavy block of wood covered every sink in the building, making it impossible for anyone even to attempt drinking water on the premises throughout Yom Kippur. This is something I’ve never heard of since.
Before the Day of Atonement were the “Days of Ostentation”: the first two of the New Year were always fashion shows! All the women had new dresses and hats; children had been fitted for new shoes at the start of the school year but weren’t allowed to wear them until the holidays. I guess I should capitalize, because The Holidays were of capital importance to us as high-schoolers for other reasons than religious observance: As teenagers, we also dressed up. Since we weren’t tethered to our seats as we had pretty much been when we were younger, we often left the shul’s interior to mingle outside with our friends, and since there were many shuls within easy walking distance, we would even use this “timeout” for a leisurely stroll, enjoying meet-ups with similar “escapees” who worshiped elsewhere.
In later years, in other places, when I had children of my own, I was one of those who remained rooted in my seat until the end of every service, which meant I depended on the kindness of others to have an after-the-fast meal ready when the last shofar blast declared that Yom Kippur was over. There was always a friend who was relieved — actually delighted! — to be able to escape early and have orange juice, coffee, and food already on the table when I appeared. A favorite break-fast meal featured blintzes lovingly made in advance, then frozen, and finally defrosted when my domestic friends left services in time to go home for the final frying.
A true confession here, which I’m sure will not surprise those of you who know me: I have never made blintzes in my life! I have opened packages, fried up their contents and found them delicious, but having long watched the kitchen construction work done by mother, I knew early on that I was never going to spend my own time putting them together from the proverbial “scratch.” But I was truly blessed with friends who doubly enjoyed this work: first, making the blintzes; then, having them as an excuse for shortening their shul day! And — truth told — I’ve never been able to tell the difference between the homemade and the “manufactured” ones; I just enjoy them both.
This year’s happy addition to my holiday memory bank: about a dozen little kids on the bima, coaxing squeaky sounds out of their plastic shofarot, then after losing breath, looking raptly and with longing at our Baal Tokia as his powerful blast ushered us all into the New Year!

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