Monday, October 17, 2011

The Best Yom Kippur Ever

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Ari and I decided this should be the title of the blog because as this past weekend ended, we all had been having such a great time together that I had a difficult time saying goodbye as we all headed home, knowing that the High Holy Days are now over for this year. Ordinarily, Yom Kippur, which requires sitting in synagogue all day and fasting from sunset to sunset, is not a holiday which I happily anticipate.

On Selichot, as we usually do, we and our friend, Faith, had a late, delicious vegetarian Indian dinner at the Elkins Park branch of the restaurant we had already liked a few months ago, Tiffin. We arrived at MBI-EE just in time for the dessert buffet that preceded the Selichot services. Rabbi Addison had chosen the theme of memory for his sermons during the High Holy Days, since many of the members of our congregation have spent decades in the building from which we are preparing to move. Rabbi asked those in attendance to share their own poignant memories from the past, their first memory of being Jewish, and their most important memory of being Jewish. The personal stories that came forth from some of our congregation were unique and fascinating.

Rosh Hashanah fell on Thursday and Friday this year, the last few days of September. Ari came in from DC on Wednesday evening. The three of us attended services and as we arrived, the skies opened and it poured so hard that the parking lot became flooded. We sat in the car for about 15 minutes rather than have to walk through ankle-high water that flowed like a small creek. As the rain subsided, we were able to circumvent the large puddles. Saul gave the Israel Bonds speech this year. I think he did an amazing job, and the co-president, Lori, told him to save the speech because it was so successful financially that he will probably be using it again next year. Rabbi Addison’s sermon was a continuation on the theme of “memory” which began at Selichot services the previous Saturday night. He spoke about the nature of memory, both in terms of Talmudic views of the subject and clinical discoveries regarding memory in the last few years. He also spoke at length about his father, who passed away this past year, and about how his memories of his father have helped to shape his life and will continue to influence him ethically and morally into the future. He quoted from the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking GlassIt’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward,” encouraging us to use our memories, both good and bad, to advance and expand our lives. After services, the sun had come out and the parking lot was almost dry as we exited. We drove directly to Cherry Hill to have lunch with the family, a cooler full of food in the trunk to supplement the abundance of food that Alex always prepares. Our family tradition on Rosh Hashanah is to begin with brachot (blessings) over dessert and schnapps, apples dipped in honey, and round challot. Highlights of our meal included zucchini bread, glazed salmon, farro with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, and carrot cake. Alex’s mom had stayed over, and had attended services with Alex and Jess. After lunch, Saul and Ari went to visit their mother and grandmother, Sima, at Lion’s Gate. She seemed relatively comfortable and pain-free, despite the fractured femur and shoulder, ensconced in a rolling lounge chair designed so that it would be impossible for her to casually get up and fall again in her state of dementia.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the congregation was again invited to share memories that had occurred within the building. Again, some very remarkable memories were shared. A 95-year-old member, who had raised her whole family in the 54-year-old congregation, was among the most memorable speakers. Beth joined us for services on the second day, and continued on with us to Cherry Hill for a light dairy lunch of leftovers, and Shabbat dinner. Larry joined us also. While Alex finished preparing dinner, Jess, Ari, Saul and I paid another visit to Lion’s Gate. We wheeled Sima into a more private space and had a pleasant conversation around her as she kept dozing off from the medication. Again, she appeared not to be in any pain and was pleasant and smiling while we were there.

Jess had paid an earlier visit to Simon’s, the kosher meat market which had always provided us all with great provisions in past years. There was an additional advantage. We are now close enough that Jess was able to meet Roxy and me for lunch at Wegman’s on her excursion. As a result of her trip to Simon’s, we had a Shabbat dinner that was heavily protein-laden, with duck, chicken, turkey, and beef stew as entrĂ©es. I made a pareve carob cake for dessert. On Sunday, Ari, Saul and I drove to Oaks to look at furniture. We scored big that afternoon, as Ari found six perfect dining room chairs to match his table on special, and Saul and I found a great sofa and chaise lounge for the sitting area of our bedroom, at a wonderful price also, at a store called Mahogany and More.

Saul and I got our flu shots courtesy of Chestnut Hill College on Wednesday, and had a nice buffet lunch together with some of the other faculty members in the school cafeteria. It was the most painless injection I have ever gotten, and luckily, neither of us had any real negative reaction. In the early evening, Saul met with the doctor who is performing his routine colonoscopy shortly. Afterward, we had dinner at Bonefish Grill. Listening to the radio on the way home, we learned that Steve Jobs had just died. Just as we were approaching home, the doctor’s office called to say that Saul had forgotten his driver’s license and insurance card and we had to return there to pick them up.

On Thursday, I worked most of the day on a publication that is becoming due as I had done the rest of the week, so it was mostly finished. When Saul came home from school, we went to look at granite counter tops with an eye to replacing our loosening Formica ones and perhaps, refacing our cabinets. Ken and Randi took us out for an exquisite dinner to belatedly celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary at an incredible little restaurant in Warminster that has to be one of the best kept secrets in the area. Off on a little side street in a residential neighborhood, Augusto’s has evidently been there for many years without our being aware of it. Foodies that we are, we were surprised that this gem has been completely under our radar. Ari arrived later in the evening and worked remotely the next day until it was time for an early dinner, and to shower and dress, before heading off to Kol Nidre services. We had butternut squash soup, seared tuna, homemade macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, and Ben and Jerry’s Clusterfluff (now tamely renamed “What a Cluster!” ice cream with triple ginger cookies for dessert. The services went so smoothly and quickly that, what usually feels interminable, was over before we knew it. The three-hour service had such a wonderful flow and pace that we were shocked when we found that we were at the end, much the way you feel when you exit from a long, but really interesting movie. What a unique synagogue experience!

The long service the next day was not quite as fleeting because of the onset of hunger pangs and sleepiness, but again, it was spiritually uplifting and we experienced a warm and welcoming feeling being surrounded by the congregation. We went home for a while after Yizkor to rest and pack up food to take to Jess and Alex’s to break the fast together. We met them at TBS for the end of the service and to hear the blasts of the shofar, which signal the end of the fast. We sat in the balcony with Elaine, Naomi, Matt and Talia as the lights were lowered and the children congregated at the bimah with their glowing, multi-colored light sticks. We were joined for breaking the fast by Alex’s new high school director and her partner. Saul and I were very happy to be surrounded by lots of friends and family. We have had some very somber and lonely break fasts in recent years because Baltimore was too far away  to allow us to join the rest of the family. For breaking the fast, we had lox and bagels, whitefish salad, pickled herring, cream cheese, assorted sliced cheeses and gourmet cheeses, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, avocados and onions, olives, artisan breads, fruit juices, coffee and tea, assorted ice cream and homemade rice pudding with whipped cream, carob cake, etc., etc.

Sunday afternoon, we did a reprise of a previous enjoyable Sunday at Chez Elena Wu. Alex joined us, and we again sat at a large, lazy-susan table and had bento box lunches of sushi, sashimi, miso soup, veggie dumplings, tempura, and ginger-dressed salad. The service was as cordial as the last time. Saul had been fighting a cold for several days, and we decided not to visit his mother and risk spreading it. In the early evening, we all went to a sukkah-decorating program and pizza dinner at TBS that Alex had sponsored. Jessica had spent a few days drawing outlines on the outside walls of the synagogue where the sukkah was to be erected. Part of the decorating involved painting in the designs, and we all had such fun doing it, including Ari and particularly Yona. As the sun began to set, and I kissed and hugged Ari as he set off for DC, I realized how sad I was to be saying goodbye to all the togetherness, good karma and fun engendered by this holiday season. Ari was sad to be leaving also, and he agreed that it was the best Yom Kippur ever.

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