By Susan Karon, Hadassah Life Member
I remember sitting in my grandparents’ small apartment, seven of us crowded around the table, slurping on chicken soup and matzah balls and not appreciating nearly enough what those days meant to us. Or how as an adult, I would long to be back in that apartment sharing soup and challah with my family.
As I grew older, we would go to temple. My grandparents would come each year to our classical reform synagogue. Light years away from their Orthodox beginnings. My mother would never come for services, but my father and I would always go. I have no memories of my brothers joining us. What I do remember so vividly is my grandmother, who was hard of hearing, making us sit in the front row. She wanted to hear the rabbi preach.
What ended up happening as we sat in the front row was that she would fall asleep and snore loudly. Never drowning out the sound of the shofar or the rabbi, thankfully, but loud enough for me to be embarrassed.
My nanny, Minnette Shain, Green, pictured with me in 1977 or 1978, was a Life Member of Hadassah and she instilled in me the importance of giving back to our community and to keep our heritage alive. In her honor, I became a Life Member of Hadassah, and while I don’t always have time for the myriad of Hadassah’s excellent women’s empowerment programs, or education and advocacy initiatives, I am and always will be well connected to Hadassah.
As time went on and my grandparents passed away, it was just my father and me. It was our thing. The community at the temple was very large, so you had to order tickets for early or late services. My father always ordered early, the services were always on erev, and the one year he decided to order late tickets, we all fell asleep and never made it to services.
When we went, we would sit in the back – the way, way, back. There was the sanctuary seating, the hallway seating, and the function space seating. We had to be on the aisle and when I think back, I am grateful our rabbi looked like Moses; long white hair and beard in his white robe or we never would have seen him so far away. His voice boomed across hundreds of people, and I remember him so fondly.
When we bought our first house, we joined a conservative synagogue that was walking distance to our home. As new members, we were given an Aliyah on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah. I would open the ark, and my husband would carry the Torah around. We were not in the main sanctuary, but in a tent in the rear parking lot. We were surrounded by friends old and new, and we were proud to keep this tradition up for many years.
The year our son was born, I held him in my arms as I opened the ark. The rabbi turned to me, as my husband was holding the Torah and said, what you are holding is almost as important as what Jeff is holding. While some people thought that was offensive, I thought here is a very learned man, someone I respect deeply, and of course a rabbi would think the Torah is more important than a baby.
A few years later, I began working at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. It was small in those days. Less than 600 families. One of my duties was the High Holy Day tickets. My favorite part of that was choosing the colors for each ticket that would represent the myriad of services we offered. Each summer, I would bring home all the request forms and lay out all the tickets and other information and stuff away. And every summer, my son would come home from camp, see the pile of tickets, roll his eyes and say “again!”
We are finally automated, which is a good thing, because in my 27 years at the temple, we have grown to almost 1300 families. My dining room table isn’t big enough to hold all those tickets.
Last year, during the pandemic (or phase one of it at this point in time), when everything was locked down, the sadness I had of not being with our members took a toll on me. I made sure to pair with restaurants so our members could take a night off from cooking, and I made sure I was present at every pick-up, just to see the smiles—okay they were under their masks—of our members who mean so much to me.
Our son had come home and for the first time in many years, it was just the three of us sharing holy day meals. I cooked for the holy days for the first time in over 20 years, because in the past, I was always working and depended on friends to feed my family.
I was so grateful that we were together. Because truthfully, I didn’t know when that would happen again, so the memories of last year are forever ingrained, unlike lost memories of my childhood. For me, working last year was very different. Yes, I went to the parking lot and helped with outside shofar services and thankfully the weather cooperated. But I wasn’t up, showered, dressed and at temple from 7:00 am–11:00 pm or later depending on the holy day, I was in my pj’s, in my bed monitoring Zoom services. Given the choice, I would take being in person over virtual any day of the week.
This year, we are not yet sure what will take place. Inside? Outside? Zoom? Hybrid? But one thing I am sure of, I have some new responsibilities and HHD tickets aren’t one of them anymore. So my dining room table is empty, and when my 27 year old son comes home from camp in two days (he is one of the directors after all these years) he won’t look at me, roll his eyes and say “again.”