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
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.