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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day of A



Greenwich Village, 1958.
At my house we don’t talk about religion. Gary Daddy-o was raised Catholic but that’s all he’ll say. Nell-mom calls her family American Nothing. From what they both say, it all sounds like a lot of rules.

I’m only telling you this because I had no idea how you celebrate a Jewish holiday or what you do in a synagogue. Then I found out my friend Blu (from the Blue Skies store) is Jewish, and it’s coming up on a really BIG Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur.

That means Day of Atonement. She said she was going to a synagogue called Sheveth Achim Anshe Slonim at 172 Norfolk Street (between Stanton and East Houston) on the Lower East Side. And guess what? Her man Sky goes with her every year, not because he’s Jewish but because he wants to understand her better.

I wanted to understand her better too. But when I asked if I could go, Blu said it was really long and I’d be bored, especially because the prayers are all in Hebrew. When I asked if she understands the words, she said no, but it doesn’t matter. She still needs to atone.

Atonement: when you say you’re sorry, especially to God. Day of Atonement: you say you’re sorry for the whole year and ask God to make sure you get in the Book of Life for another year. I told Blu if I was bored I could always leave, but she said I’d have to ask my parents, because she didn’t want them thinking she was just bringing me to some religious thing-a-ma-jig.

When I asked, Nell-mom and Gary Daddy-o had this confab, going out back, coming in again and then going out. I followed them and Nell-mom turned to me.

“It’s okay with me and I guess it’s okay with your daddy-o, as long as you’re not in church.”

“Why would I be in church when I just asked you about a synagogue?” I said.

Being parents, they didn't answer. Doing their best to be oblique.

Once I had permission, Blu said I’d also have to dress up. But we have nothing in the closet except jeans and shirts and they're all of them black. There may be one or two skirts that belong to Nell-mom but neither one fits me, ‘cause she’s so tall. Luckily Sophie had something and we’re the very same size.

On the Day of A, I had to meet Sky and Blu at their store at nine, which wasn’t easy since I don’t even get up until TEN. Nell-mom woke me and Ray made me breakfast, which wasn’t that hard because it was cereal. Ray said he thought it was cool I was going but he didn’t want to tag along.

Sky and Blu were waiting on the corner and it was like the first time I’d ever seen them, you know, dressed up. Sky had on a white shirt and slacks, which he NEVER wears and Blu wore white, almost like a wedding dress with long sleeves and a scoop neck. I have to say she was angel-beautiful.

Then it got really crazy because Ray DID come along, deciding he wanted to see what a synagogue looked like (Blu calls it a “shul.”) Ray was wearing jeans, so we weren’t sure they’d let him in; but Sky gave him a jacket and we snuck him through.

I don’t know what I expected, incense, maybe? I heard that’s what they have in Catholic churches. Instead, there were men in beards and beanie-things; Blu calls them yarmulkes. They also had white prayer shawls with blue and white stripes.

Blu was right about the Hebrew—there was a lot of it and I didn’t understand a word. I sat with her in the balcony and Ray and Sky were on the main floor. Only ladies in the balcony, which I thought was kinda weird. Blu said it was like that since she grew up and she didn't understand it, either.

Everyone stood up most of the time, but Blu said it was okay to sit down if you were tired. Down on the main floor, I'm pretty sure I saw Ray falling asleep.

Sky said that Blu won’t eat all day and stops eating after dinner the day before. She won’t put a thing in her mouth until the sun goes down.

The thing about a synagogue, Sky says, is that Christianity is old; but Judaism is ancient. The music is all chanted in a minor key (which Gary Daddy-o would like). It mostly sounds like somebody's crying.

Sometimes I had to sit down myself and might have closed my eyes for a while. But then they had this horn, not like a jazz horn, but a really ancient one that looks like it belongs to an animal. They call it a shofar and when they blow it, no matter what you’re doing, you have to stand at attention.

Once I heard it, I just had to ask Blu what she was atoning for.

She smiled and looked at me.

“Everything.”

--Ruby T.