Brooklyn, NY 1910
By mid-morning men, women, families walk to shul to observe the most serious day of the Jewish calendar.
They are not jovial as they walk; the men span the pavement, side by side and shake their heads with solemn expressions. On their heads are yarmulkes and fedoras that cover them. The women keep up with them from behind. They also walk together with less sober faces, expressing their respect for each other’s special clothing, purchased especially for the holiday.
Men take their reserved seats in the main section of the synagogue. Women gather with their friends in the balcony above. Orthodox Jewish law prevents women from sitting with men on every holiday or sacred even, such as a marriage.
Although most of the people live within a very narrow radius of the shul, some walk quite a distance. It is never a day to take lightly or get the carriage out for a ride. On Yom Kipper, one never eats after sundown of the evening before, nor even turns on a light if they have electricity. Phones don’t ring or if the family owns one, it is not picked up. Food is kept in cold storage and not viewed until after sundown. Just before then, women and their older daughters lay out a spread of light food, such as smoked fish and salads are were quickly prepared and put on the table. The meal is topped off with rugalach, a sweet cinnamon cookie made with frozen dough.
As the day disappears, hungry and much relieved diners sit together and wish each other a sweet year.
“L’chaim; To life!”
By mid morning, men and women are walking together and chattering with animation. It’s the day to atone for what each has done to hurt or harm another. These things will be considered when they reach the shul, just blocks away. Many people drive to a street just blocks away, and walk the rest of the way with the others. It’s a time for men to dress in their best suits and yarmulkes that match their suits on the crown of their heads. Women are hatless or if they choose, they wear a thin gauzy square of lace on the crown of their heads, held in place by a bobby pin or two. Their clothing is new, but subdued and fashionable suits or dresses of recognized designers.
By the time they reach the synagogue, they greet their friends, the other congregants, on the steps and chat for a while, then families move on to the inside of the temple to find their reserved seats. Hours pass; a husband or wife whispers to the other that it’s time to leave. Families quietly pass each other as they depart with simple nods. No one wants to be seen as leaving too early.
The family hurries home a lot faster than their trip to the shul. Children drink orange juice when they arrive home and nosh on sweets set out for the upcoming “break/fast.” Adults try to sustain themselves with glasses of water. Those who are sick or aged are absolved from fasting.
The food is has often been prepared by caterers and placed on the table by who ever offers to help serve the various types of ethnic fare.
Cakes and cookies finish off the exotic spread.
To all at the table when sundown arrives the call from everyone is, “L’Chaim; To Life.”
Some things never change.