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When family meant gathering in the sukkah

Journal Correspondent

Ted Liftman, Beatrice Finkle and Myrna Liftman at a Simchat Torah celebration in Lynn.

OCTOBER 4, 2018 – Once we get through the solemnity of the High Holidays, it’s time to celebrate, and what better way than to decorate a sukkah! At least that’s what my children thought, and it was my pleasure to take them back to temple to participate in this fun event.

One thing I always felt sad about, though, was that they never had the experience to visit a real sukkah, or to eat some cookies in it, or to sip some tea or – in their case – milk. This is what I did when as a child we would visit my Zayde, Rev. Friedel Liftman, and his sukkah on the second floor of his two-family house at 18 Cottage St., Chelsea.

I don’t know how long it took to prepare that sukkah, but since my father was one of eight living children, several of whom resided in Chelsea with their families, I’m sure there were many hands to help create this amazing and welcoming place. I can recall lots of leaves on the roof, little bundles of grapes hanging down, and many pieces of fruit tucked in between. There was also Zayde’s bed, the one he slept in each night. It wasn’t his regular bed but a makeshift one with great big fluffy white pillows and a blanket or two. This was home to Zayde for the entire eight-day holiday.

I have to admit that for a temporary structure, it was well-designed. Of course, on a sunny, dry day it was fun. I never visited when it was raining so I don’t know how waterproof the roof was, but as a child that never crossed my mind. I just thought the entire experience must have been magical.

Since this was long before the time of electronics, the Internet, and TV, all anyone could do in the sukkah was pray, contemplate the ways of the world, and read. Everything, of course, was in Hebrew and the conversation was in Yiddish. Although I didn’t speak or write Yiddish, somehow Zayde was still able to communicate with us kids as he substituted some English words when he saw the puzzled look on our faces.

To a little kid like me, this sukkah was a holy place, a place that allowed my Zayde to communicate with God. On the other hand, I also felt fortunate to go home and sleep in my own bed in my own house.

After Sukkot, the most fun event of the year followed, the celebration of Simchat Torah. What excitement there was leading up to it! I loved marching around the interior of the shul, holding a paper flag up high on a wooden stick topped with a shiny red apple. I felt so proud as I joined the big kids, determined not to let my flag droop so the apple wouldn’t fall off.

I remember the time we celebrated the holiday at the Ahabat Sholom synagogue when it was on Church Street [in Lynn]. Fortunately, I have a copy of a picture I cherish. It was taken in the foyer of the shul by a photographer from the Lynn Telegram-News and it’s of my cousin, Bea Finkle, my brother, Ted Liftman, and me.

Through the years, I know we celebrated the holiday in different shuls and temples but my most memorable celebration is still that one on Church Street. What I didn’t understand was why Bubbe didn’t go there regularly to worship; it was right across the street from her apartment. Instead, after she kissed the mezuzah on the door frame, we navigated three flights of stairs, trekked up Church Street and along South Common Street to get to our destination, a small, two-story building. It was the first home of the Anshai Sfard Synagogue. The men, of course, were downstairs, and Bubbe and I climbed to the second floor where the women worshipped. Bubbe seemed to read from her own book, which I recently discovered would have been a prayer book designed for women.
The trip was exciting for me, although I was discouraged from looking down on the men. My grandmother either thought I might fall or maybe it would be impolite to do something other than pray.

As for the choice of family shuls, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the real reason for the long walk to Anshai Sfard. Ahabat Sholom was a Litvishe shul (for the Litvaks who emigrated from Lithuania). Anshai Sfard was a Russische shul that attracted Jews from Russia. Evidently in those days, the distinctions were important.
Since I married a Litvak, I guess I’m lucky they didn’t consider it a mixed marriage.

Myrna Fearer can be reached at msfearer@gmail.com.

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