During Elul and Aseres Y’mei T’shuvah, there are so many types of gatherings available to help people get into the mood of the Yamim Nora’im. From the street, I can hear the beautiful music and singing of kumsitzes. Thousands join together to say S’lichos at the Kosel. Maybe I don’t remember, but I don’t recall this sort of thing from when I was growing up. It seems to me that while the t’filos are the same, much has changed over the years, at least for me. These are positive and inspiring developments that meet the needs of our generation.
When I was a little girl, we would spend our summers and Yamim Nora’im in upstate New York, where my father was the rabbi of a shul. The shul provided us with a cozy house with a beautiful backyard. I loved spending those carefree afternoons playing ball and swinging on the swing set along with my brother. I can still smell the delicious musty smell of the cellar under our house, which we didn’t enter nearly enough as far as I was concerned. How I loved that smell! The more than two-hour journey from our home in Queens seemed like forever to me, but once we arrived, I was so happy to be there.
My father would lead the services in shul every Shabbos, but there was a special awe-inspiring atmosphere during the Yamim Nora’im. As always, my brother would sit on the stage next to my father z”l and I would sit like a princess next to my mother and watch as my father led the services. I enjoyed watching the baal t’kiah blowing the long and twisted shofar on Rosh HaShanah. I would watch the tassel on the cap of the chazan as he would sway back and forth leading the congregation in t’filah. I would watch him bend all the way down during Aleinu and the Avodah. And most importantly, I would make sure to get a good view of the interesting selection of shoes worn by the men on Yom Kippur.
During davening, I would play in the lobby with the dumbwaiter (remember those?) but I would come running back in whenever the chazan would sing my favorite tunes. I think they were all my favorite tunes, so I spent a lot of time in shul. But my all-time favorite was Anu Amecha. I was thrilled that of all the Yom Kippur tunes, that was the one we sang the most. My mother would show me in the machzor when it was coming up so that I wouldn’t be outside and miss it. I would sit next to my mother, and we would sing together. And when we would get to Anu Maamirecha, we would smile at each other, knowing our own precious secret. While everyone else was singing about the fact that “we are the ones whom Hashem addresses, and He is the One to Whom we speak,” we also were singing about my Mommy, which sounds like Maamirecha. I felt sheltered and safe sitting next to my mother, with my father on the stage at the helm.
Eventually, my brother and I went off to sleepaway camp and my father left his position at the shul. My parents had become friends with some of the congregants and maintained a relationship with them for years. Over the years, we davened in various shuls on the Yamim Nora’im: the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Rabbi Teitz’s shul, and Congregation Ahavas Yisroel – all wonderful minyanim. I davened with my parents wherever they went until I got married. Then I had to share them with my brother. But even when I wasn’t sitting next to my mother, I always thought about her during Anu Amecha. Then my father passed away. I immediately lost my “Get out of shul during Yizkor” pass and was relegated to the ranks of the women who cried during U’N’saneh Tokef. My wall of security had been penetrated and my carefree days were a thing of the past.
Davening during the Yamim Nora’im these days is a totally different experience. I love the singing of contemporary tunes in addition to traditional ones. I have the song Ochilah L’Keil playing repeatedly as I work in my kitchen, and I can’t imagine the Yamim Nora’im without it at this point. I love when the t’filah becomes alive with spontaneous dancing in the Men’s section. I am moved when the pure and innocent voices of young children harmonize with the chazan.
Time passes and some things change. It is beneficial when we can hold on to our traditions and incorporate changes that enhance those traditions. To this day, my eyes well up with tears whenever we sing Anu Amecha. I don’t think that will ever change. But sitting next to my daughter, I feel a sense of gratitude for my family. Anu Maamirecha. I try to be the best Mother I can be.