Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Those Were The (High Holy) Days

I came back from my boarding school in 1958, when I was 12 years old.
We had recently moved to West Norwood. That is where I lived with my parents and six years older sister, until I left England when I was 18.

My parents did not work on two Jewish High Holy days: Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). These were the only two days in the year that they went to shul instead of to work.
My father and his peers were tradesmen who could not afford to be religious.

We went to Streatham synagogue, that serviced the small pockets of Jews who lived in our part of south London. Very few people lived near enough to the synagogue to be able to walk there. Most people arrived in their cars.
Nobody was so brash as to park in front of the synagogue on Yom Tov, but the surrounding streets were full of parked cars.
The praying area of the synagogue was quite small and was separated from a large hall by a folding wall. On the High Holy days the wall was opened and the large hall incorporated into the praying area.

My father went first, quite early in the morning. He took the bus.
My mother, sister and I came later in the car. For the women these days were also a fashion parade and they took a lot of care to look their best.
My sister was of marriageable age. The visits to the synagogue were important in the search for a suitable Jewish husband.

When I arrived at the synagogue I used to put on my kappel (skullcap) and tallis (prayer shawl) and go and sit next to my father.
The men around him would greet me heartily. They would ask about my health and how I was doing at school. Then they would congratulate my father at having such a fine son. It was almost a ritual.
My father had been at the shul for some time, so he kept nodding off. My primary task was to nudge him when we had to stand.
When there was a break, I used to go outside to chat with the other young people, especially the girls. This was in the time when it was not politically incorrect for teenagers to have hormones.

Of course the High Holy days had mainly a religious significance. However, they were also important in keeping the community together.
The atmosphere was friendly, warm and inclusive.
In those hours we were all brothers and sisters, one nation, one family and safe from the Jew-haters.

I appreciated the warmth and love of those High Holy Days at Streatham shul, but when I was 18 it was time to leave this modern shtetl. Time to join the Jews who wanted to be masters of their own destiny.
A time to build and, when necessary, to fight.

For Avraham.
Arim Roshi (I will raise my head).

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