Shul not just for ticketholders, a boys ingenuity shows

Special to the Bulletin

Mama let out a sigh, "Oy! The holidays are so early this year. It seems that we just finished with Pesach not to mention Shavuot, and soon it will be the New Year"

There was no arguing with Mama or trying to tell her that we were already half past September, that school had started several weeks ago and that it was time for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to appear on the calendar. Each year it was the same, the sigh and the comment. Although, if truth must be told, once in a while there was a variation. After the sigh came the comment, "Oy! The holidays are so late this year. It's soon Rosh Hashanah and before you know it Chanukah."

But early or late (it seems that the holidays were never on time) there was a special mood in the air. For us kids, we knew that we would be off from school and that we would be getting new shoes. Sneakers were out of the question. "Ball players wear sneakers. These shoes are for shul, for the synagogue, for services." (It was a three-in-one situation.)

We knew that we first wore the new shoes to synagogue and then to school. It was good luck to wear something new on Shabbos or on a holiday, and new shoes qualified.

The High Holy Days were special in many ways. First of all, all of us had to be carefully dressed and groomed. And then you needed tickets to get into the synagogue. Those of us without tickets (and this means most of us kids) had to use our wits and our ingenuity to enter the shul. At the door of the big synagogues (like the Mt. Eden Center or Zion Temple on the Grand Concourse) there stood a guard — not an usher — and certainly not a member of the congregation. This was a tall Irish policeman (at least he looked like a policeman, all attired in a blue uniform; and at least he looked Irish, he had blond hair and a ruddy complexion.) He was there to keep out those without tickets — and it was our solemn challenge to get past and enter. We used all the time-honored ploys: 1) I have to see my Grandma. She forgot to take her pills. 2) I have a message for my Grandpa. It's important.

And all these words were accompanied with a soulful expression, designed to melt the heart of the most austere of the security officers. Did they know that all this was a ruse? Probably. But they gave us a hard time. It was all a part of the game.

"What does Grandma look like? How tall is Grandfather? If I let you in will you promise not to pray?" We promised. We entered. We found friends and relatives. The men were all downstairs and the women up in the balcony. (Rabbi Wise was once asked why the men sat downstairs and the women were above in the balcony and he said it was to remind us of Psalm 8, that "man was created a little lower than the angels." (Not bad. 'Twill serve.)

We looked at the prayer books and disregarded the mock-admonition of the guard at the door. We giggled, we prayed, we laughed, we prayed, and we whispered to each other. We were admonished to be still. We were hugged by those who knew us. And then we left to continue our journey to the next synagogue and to be on our way to a new adventure and a new challenge.

The High Holy Days were wonderful, filled with new beginnings and new anticipation. My memory bank stores these vignettes and holds on most lovingly to the bubbes and the zaydes, the Irish (they must have been Irish) guards and the rebbes with the gray beards, the aroma of old books and equally old tallitot, the sea of yarmulkes and the low murmur of prayers. The pictures remain and sharing them with you makes them become alive and vital and adds a special quality to my message.

L'shana tova tikateyvu — May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy and healthy year, a year of peace and happiness, of renewed energy, and, even a little more prosperity. As long as I'm asking…that wouldn't hurt either.