Word From the Weiss
So sorry! I mean, I’m really, really sorry! I don’t call. But what’s worse is that I don’t write.
Don’t write here, anyway. The good news is that I’m hard at work on another book. The bad news? No time lately for NiceJewishMom.com. Other duties call. But it breaks my heart. I lie awake at night feeling like I have an itch that I can’t scratch.
fly by without documentation or, even worse, self-examination. I don’t write. Therefore, I am NOT.
Even more exasperating is that I did start writing something, several weeks ago. So many weeks that it’s now retreating into the rearview
mirror. Every day, I think that if I don’t finish it soon, it will be way too old to post. Staler than a week-old challah. I mean, how can
I tell you about Rosh Hashanah when it’s almost Halloween?
my daughter says that one of her best friends, a faithful reader, keeps checking this
space and is disappointed to still find nothing new. This story, as
I said, is hardly what you might call “new.” No matter. Here it is. Kylie, this one’s for you!
A very belated happy Jewish New Year from NiceJewishMom.com! I certainly hope this year will be a happy one. Not to mention a Jewish one. Yet, beyond being someone who blogs about being a nice Jewish mom, who am I to talk about being Jewish?
I would hate
to think that I am gradually turning into one
of those Jews who only turn up in their temples on the High Holy Days. But the
truth is that, in recent years, my husband and I often
don’t even do that.
When our kids were young, we celebrated everything from Shabbat to Tu Bishvat, which meant going to synagogue more often than not. But
now that the kids are grown and living on their own, many major holidays force us to choose: Go to our own shul in Connecticut, or drive down to NYC instead and share the occasion with them?
To me, when it comes to holidays, particularly the High and Holy ones,
my priority remains being
with family over simply following protocol. That
is, I would rather eat with my kids – or, when it comes to Yom Kippur, not eat with my kids – than daven without them. And in the pursuit of family togetherness, it tends
to be easier for the mountain to go to Mohammed (excuse the expression) than vice
I was hoping this year that we might be able to kill both birds with one shalom. That is, to be with our kids and still manage to attend synagogue services somewhere. But however
sweet that objective might sound, making it happen was far from as simple as dipping apples into
Rosh Hashanah fell midweek this
year, there was little chance that our kids would come home. So
I looked for a temple in NYC to
which we could go together.
As members of a Reform synagogue in Connecticut, my husband
and I are entitled to free reciprocal
tickets to Reform synagogues elsewhere. But now that the kids rarely come
home, we no longer maintain a family membership, so we couldn’t get free tickets for them. And for those of you who may not live in Manhattan,
or don't go to synagogue there, let’s just say that these tickets come at a price.
That price can top $400
per person to attend on both Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur. And since my son is married, and my daughter will be soon, there are now six members of our family. That could
amount to quite a lot of gelt.
The distinct possibility also
remained that the kids might cancel out
at the last minute, so I didn’t want to invest too much in this endeavor. So I was
very happy when an Internet search led me to Kol Haneshamah, a.k.a. the Center for Jewish Life and
Enrichment. Not only was it a short walk from my son’s apartment on the
Upper West Side, but its services were free.
Hesitant to take advantage of its hospitality completely free of charge, I made a small donation after reserving six seats for Rosh Hashanah morning. But not
feeling confident that at least someone, if not
everyone, wouldn’t reneg, I
gave only a small amount, figuring that if all actually went as planned I could always give more later.
Unfortunately, just as I’d feared, when we checked in with my son the night before, it turned out that Aidan hadn’t been entirely aware of the plan. He wasn’t free to
attend services the next morning. Neither was my daughter-in-law, Kaitlin.
My daughter lives in Manhattan in the East 20s. We were staying at a hotel
in Long Island City. We had been willing to schlep all the way to the Upper West Side only for my son’s benefit. If
he and his wife weren’t coming, going
there made no sense, free services or not.
So my daughter found another service far
closer to her home.
This one was held by an organization called Ohel Ayalah, which offers free walk-in services meant primarily for unaffiliated Jews in their 20s and 30s. That makes it possible, according to its website, “for a Jew to wake up on Rosh Hashanah morning and say, ‘I feel like
going to the synagogue today and being with other Jews.’”
It all began in September of 2003,
on Erev Kol Nidrei –
the night before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Judith Hauptman was on her way to religious services when she encountered a distraught
young Jewish couple who had been turned away from two different synagogues earlier that evening. They had failed to make reservations, and all the seats had already filled up.
upon hearing this, was equally distraught. A conservative rabbi, and the first
woman ever to receive a Ph. D in
Talmud, she had been teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1974. Determined
to find a solution, she quickly came up with an idea: She would find a way to offer free, walk-in services for those who
wait until the last minute to make up their minds about worshipping on the High Holy Days. (As well as those whose plans suddenly change?)
The following year, Ohel Ayalah (“Tent of Helen,” named for her late mother) was born.
The very first service
was packed, primarily with young people under the age of 35. In the ensuing years, the organization continued to not only flourish, but grow, branching out to add services in Brooklyn and Queens,
as well as Passover seders.
This year’s services in Manhattan would be held at the Prince George Ballroom on West 27th Street. Allegra and JP agreed to meet us there late the next morning.
We woke up to an urgent message from them, though. Their new little
puppy, Luna, had been up all night vomiting. They
were very concerned and rushing her
to the vet. Allegra was not ready to cancel out on temple just yet, though. And neither were
we. We agreed that we would go to
the service ourselves and attempt to save her a seat.
Good luck to us with that! Although the Prince George Ballroom is cavernous, at over 9,000 square feet, we arrived to discover that the service was already packed and standing-room-only. So we made our way to the back of the room... and stood.
At least this spared us from the usual routine of having
to get up every time the rabbi entreated the congregation to “please
rise” whenever a major prayer was read. We were already on our feet.
a bit sheepish about going to a service intended mostly for young people in their 20s and 30s. I’m a
nice Jewish mom of two people in their 20s and 30s. Young, I am not. And if I’m not young, then what is Nice Jewish
Dad, who has just over a decade on me?
Indeed, we stood out in the crowd – and I do mean crowd. Hundreds of well-dressed young
Jews filled the rows of seats and stood lining the perimeter of the room. Many among the seated soon began approaching us and
offering to give us their seats. As generous a gesture as this was – a mitzvah in the making –
we would graciously decline.
Yet it was an unusually warm day, both inside and out, and I eventually persuaded
my husband to accept one such offer, seeing that he was tired and beginning to shvitz in his suit.
I was there mostly to
be with our daughter, though, and there was no seat available for her. So I remained standing alone in the back, keeping one eye
on the prayers in the siddur (prayer book) and the other trained expectantly
on the doorway.
And finally, after an hour or so, there she was! They were still awaiting results
of the X-rays, so her fiancé, JP, who is not Jewish, had been obliged to stay behind with poor sick Luna. But Allegra was finally there, and I moved over eagerly so that she could lean against the wall beside me.
Eventually, I found that I could
no longer stand on ceremony, though, let
alone my high holiday heels. So I dared to sit down on the floor. Seeing this, to my amazement, dozens
of young people instantly followed suit, despite being attired in dresses and suits.
Maybe I had unwittingly managed a mitzvah of my own.
when it was announced that there were still seats available for an afternoon service on Yom
Kippur the following week – and that if you registered in advance, you were guaranteed to get one – I decided to make reservations for us all. This time, I would make sure that everyone got the memo.
We would get to worship as a family, after all.
Not that I was complaining, mind you. The service that we were attending now was not only free, but included a free reception afterwards.
After the closing hymn, everyone filed into
the hallway to feast on gefilte fish,
noodle kugel, and assorted rugelach. Yum!
No wonder I felt obliged to make a donation to Ohel Ayalah afterwards. If you are interested
in helping to guarantee the future of the Jewish community, what a worthy cause!
Afterwards, we hurried home to Allegra’s apartment.
Aidan and Kaitlin would be joining
us for dinner. There was still a whole holiday
meal to prepare!
Knowing that her kitchen is barely bigger
than a mezzuzah –
there isn’t even a drawer in it for silverware or Saran Wrap – I had toted most of the
food from home, along with pots
and pans to cook it in. Not to mention bowls, trays, condiments, and assorted
I had also done as much of the food prep as
possible in advance.
Out now came the apples and honey, the round braided raisin challah, the homemade chicken
soup with carrots and fine egg noodles, the kosher
chicken to roast with prunes, olives, and
fresh herbs from my garden, the broccoli I had already cut into florets and fresh organic carrots I had already peeled, the portabella mushrooms I had already stuffed, the apple crisp I had already baked, plus a pot of quinoa, which may not be a traditional Jewish food, by any means, but what the heck, it’s healthy!
Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking. Then the rest of the evening cleaning
it all up. But all that I remember now, looking back in the rearview mirror, is the magical moment at which we all finally sat down together as a
family, lit the tall, white holiday candles, and raised our voices to sing the Kiddush and the Motzi – the blessings over the wine and the bread. Suddenly, it was worth
every single second of effort. And, certainly, having to have missed services at our shul back home.
(From left to right) Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra, JP, my husband Harlan... and Luna,
who was feeling much better, peeking out on the floor.
As for next
year, I am already looking forward to services at Ohel Ayalah again. Whether we reserve in advance and get to sit, or end up needing to stand again, they deserve a standing ovation.
To learn more about this group or make a donation yourself, go to www.ohelayalah.org.