This year, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began at sundown on Sept. 25 and ended on sundown Sept. 27. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days that end on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Oct. 4. 

I grew up in a town that included people of various races, ethnicities and religions. The population of the public schools reflected the town.

Members of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation walk onto the pier east of Dawes Park to mark tashlich, the ritual of casting off sins that is part of the Rosh Hashanah New Year celebration. This was on Tuesday, the second day of the High Holidays.

I was made aware of Jewish holidays because school was either canceled on those days or formal classes were replaced by study halls. Teachers did not discuss the essence of the holidays.

I was also aware that there was a synagogue in my town where Jews held services on Saturdays. The synagogue was “the church for Jewish people,” my mom would say without any negative tone.

I really loved my mom. She let my sister and me know about the Holocaust and the evil things done to Jews. “Jews have suffered a lot,” she would tell us.

My mom had a Jewish friend who lived out of town who would sometimes stop by on a Saturday “after synagogue.” My mom’s friend was the secretary for a Jewish lawyer, and my mom was the domestic worker for this lawyer who cleaned his office.  

As an adult, I am somewhat ashamed to recall that I helped a high-school Jewish friend prepare foods for the holidays – because I was not kosher. Her father was kosher. My friend was the only functioning female in a family of several males and was responsible for preparing foods for the holidays.

Her mother had died during the Holocaust, and her sister had been driven mad with grief and been institutionalized. My friend, who lived on a farm outside of town with her father, would drive into town and take me to her house where I would help prepare foods while her father was out of the house. She was my friend and needed my help. Religion did not take a place in my compassionate brain during that time.

Yom Kippur Is a day to “ask for forgiveness for wrong doings from God and fellow human beings.” (Erin Blakemore; National Geographic) This reminds me of what a Catholic friend told me is the purpose of Catholic confessions. 

No matter what our religion or non-religion, we recognize and/or celebrate various holidays. These holidays make us aware of the different practices and beliefs of human beings.

No matter what the differences, my mom’s philosophy and practice was, “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” 

Indeed, indeed.

*Hebrew for “To Life.”

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...

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  1. Thank you, Peggy, for putting into words what is important about being human and giving to others as you would have done for you. L’Chaim!

  2. As a Jewish woman up in age, growing up in that kind of environment, I commend you for helping your friend. You are truly doing what’s called a Mitzvah in Hebrew and Yiddish. Mitzvah loosely means a blessed favor done with a very kind heart. To me, any religion that goes to an extreme, does not serve the religion well. Not being able to help a friend because you are not kosher to me is such an extreme. Thank you for your generous heart and your caring in helping your friend.

    1. Dear Ms. Brand,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write your kind and educational comments in response to my story L’chaim. You taught me the word and meaning of the word “Mitzvah”, for which I am most appreciative.

      I can’t thank you enough for consoling me and complimenting me by referring to me as a Mitzvah. You, too, are a Mitzvah and will always be in my heart.

      Take care.

      Best wishes always,
      Peggy Tarr