If those words sound familiar, it’s possible that you are aware of the song of the same name from the popular musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” The show recounts the life of Tevye the Dairyman and his family through words and music written by Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. I was only 10 years old when the show, based on the tales of Sholem Aleichem, debuted on Broadway, but my parents went, as did my grandparents, and “Fiddler” was all that they could talk about for months on end.
My latest internet search revealed that Aleichem, (the pseudonym of Sholem Rabinovitch) is widely considered “one of the preeminent classical writers of modern Yiddish literature; as a humorist noted for his many Yiddish stories of life in the shetl,” a word which translates to “small town.” Those stories, based on his own life (1859-1916) continue to inspire new generations, and the aforementioned song often serves as a backdrop for mine, right here in my 21st century shetl. “Yep, it’s that time of year again,” I rasped in the general direction of the dog, who, as usual, yawned and ignored me. “Yom Kippur is right around the corner,” I continued as if she actually cared.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for Jews the world over, when we are “closest to G-d and to the essence of our souls” (www.chabad.org). It means “Day of Atonement,” and traditionally Jews fast for 25 hours. “Abstain from food and drink, do not wash or apply lotions or creams, but instead spend the day in synagogue praying for forgiveness.” The Torah dictates, and those who can, do.
On the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur is all about “letting go” by metaphorically placing whatever transgressions we might have made during the past year into the Book of Life through prayer that asks forgiveness. “If I have slighted or offended you,” the words echo in my head, “please forgive me. May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” It’s not exactly a “get out of jail free card,” but it does comfort me, believing that the Universe understands that we all make mistakes and can learn from them. Although Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year, there is an undercurrent of joy, expressing confidence that forgiveness is inherent; once the verdict has been sealed, a year of life, health and happiness (sure sounds like “Fiddler on the Roof” to me) is in store. Following the fast, a wonderful meal is served and the solemnity becomes a “yom tov,” which translates to “festival” in its own right.
“Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?” the song from “Fiddler” asks. “I don’t remember growing older… When did they?” I sang those lyrics from “Sunrise, Sunset” to the dog (don’t judge!) on our way to Jeffersonville, NY last Saturday, where the town was celebrating Founders Day and Oktoberfest with live music, a pie contest/auction and tractors, tractors, tractors. In my humble opinion (IMHO), nothin’ says life in the Upper Delaware River region like a good old fashioned pie auction and families lining the streets cheering for their friends and neighbors as John Deeres and antique Farmalls snake their way down Main Street, USA. “When did she get to be a beauty?” the song continues, “When did he grow to be so tall? Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”
Year after year, I join folks on the sidelines in towns across the county, where it’s clear that our kids are growing up. Wasn’t it only yesterday that they sat on Mom or Dad’s lap pretending to steer the John Deere? Now those same kids are grown, some with children of their own. All of this gives me pause, as I attempt to capture an elusive moment in time with my camera, thinking not only about the last year, but other holidays with my family in years past, and how it all goes by so quickly. I reflect, as intended, on what has transpired over the last 12 months. As we close the book on the year 5779 (our calendar goes back a little), I become more pensive. It’s been a roller coaster of a year, and since I have no clue (none of us do) of what might transpire as the next one plays out, I’ll do my best to celebrate life here in the country, a life that fulfills on so many levels. “Sunrise, sunset,” the haunting refrain lingers in the air, long after the parade has passed. “Swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers… blossoming even as we gaze.” L’chaim—to life!
Want more pics of Jeffersonville’s Founders Day celebration? Visit our Facebook page, tag your pals and share photos of the day with your family and friends.