I was born in New York City in the 1960’s to an Israeli man and an American born Jewish woman. Their marriage lasted only two short years. Eventually, my mother left my father and went back to her mother’s house. It was under the care of these two Jewish women that I received much of my traditional Jewish upbringing.
My mother had to find work to support us which meant that much of my time was spent with a dear Jewish immigrant from the old country affectionately known as my grandmother. She spoke fluent Yiddish, and as a result I learned to understand much of the old country language.
My grandmother’s sense of traditionalism burned bright against the gentile background I’d grown accustomed to in earlier years. We kept two sets of silverware: One for milk, and one for meat. We lit annual Yortzit candles in memory of her husband, my grandfather. We also observed special days the Jewish holidays in the Spring and Fall. We were a very typical Jewish home in New York City!
While most of my friends were allowed to play ball on the street almost every October day, however, there were two specific days during that month that I was not to participate. It was not under the threat of violence that I abstained, but rather from a sense of belonging to my people. On the Holy Days of Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanna we simply did not act as the gentiles did. I was told that Yom Kippur was the day that we were to fast so God would forgive us of our sins. We were not to engage in any normal activities that day – not even turning on a light switch! You can imagine how difficult this must have been to this ten year old, but we were Jewish! And if this is what God wanted us to do…
As I entered my teens, however, I began to ponder the meaning and value of these and other traditional observances. This idea of just fasting one day a year for the forgiveness of my sins raised perplexing questions in my heart and mind. How could I fast just one day a year and the rest of the year do whatever I wished? And then the question of forgiveness began to loom greater and greater as time passed and I progressed into areas of life that I inherently knew were not pleasing to God.