photo intro
mom's yom tov story

by lois powazek

The Jewish New Year brings me to a time of reflection. "On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed; who will live and who will die." So many years I have read those words. This year, looking back at the death of my mother, the words have much greater meaning. What will this year bring? For so many years I have prayed for changes in my life; greater security, love, happiness ... and each year seems the same. But now I am the matriarch, so to speak, of my little family of three. It was not always so....

Kingston, New York. 1947. I am born, the only child of Gertrude and George, but an integral part of a HUGE nuclear family. Friends would later, somewhat enviously, refer to them as the Kreppel Dynasty. Grandma Jennie and Grandpa Jake were the parents of eight children, most of whom lived with their children in Kingston.

Sunday was family day; it was assumed and expected that the day would be spent at Grandma and Poppy's house. "Kiss the Poppy!" was the phrase of the day, and if you were lucky, maybe Poppy would stick his hand in his pocket and bring out a crisp, dollar bill! There were no other plans made for that day; family always came first.

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, family was all around. Most of the Kreppels belonged to the Orthodox Synagogue, Agudas Acheim, as this was the house of worship of Grandma and Poppy; they were pillars of the congregation. My parents and I belonged to the Conservative Synagogue, Ahavath Israel, which was located just up the street. My father had not been raised Orthodox, and had never felt comfortable in Poppy's shul, so my parents had joined the other shul where some of the prayers were said in English. But on Yom Tov, holiday time, my greatest thrill would be to walk down to the "other shul" to see Grandma and Poppy and my cousins.

In an Orthodox Temple, the men and women sit separately, usually out of sight from each other. At this shul, the women sat in a balcony on either side of the men, but they were in plain sight of each other. The men would doven in Hebrew, swaying from side to side in the cadence of the prayers, their talism (prayer shawls) wrapped tightly around them. I didn't understand what they were saying, but the Rabbi would occasionally announce the page number and ask the women to stop talking. Because in the balcony, the mitzvah of the holiday was oohing and aahing over the accomplishments of one's children and grandchildren.

So here was the joy of Yom Tov: "Whose daughter are you?" "Gertie's" "Oh, are you Jennie's granddaughter?" "Yes." "OOOOHHHHH; AAAAAAHHHHH...." Young girls under 13 could sit with the men, so it was an even greater honor to go downstairs and sit with Poppy. "This is Gertie's daughter. She can read Hebrew." "OOOOOHHHHH; AAAAAAAHHHHHH...." A blessing.

So, now I sit in my Temple and watch all the families. My children are grown and living far away. It has been many years since we sat together as a family at Temple, sometimes making faces at the choir (they try) and rephrasing some of our favorites songs (Mazel tov and cinnamon toast), and sometimes praying that we would get through the day without a fight.

My aunts and uncles and many cousins are now living scattered all over the country, no longer able to be together for Yom Tov. My heart aches as the Waldman family, who I manage to sit behind most years, are called up to the bimah to open the doors of the Holy Ark where the Torahs are stored. Many of their family are missing today, but they still number around 20. How lucky they are, I think, as my eyes mist over.

Maybe someday I will also be able to sit in Temple on Yom Tov, and share the ooohs and aaahs of pleasure and pride of my children and grandchildren with my friends, and see the traditions that my ancestors fought and died for continued in future generations. There is a Yiddish word for it: "nachas." Blessings.

I miss you, Derek and Jenny. L'shana Tova.