There’s something special about autumn in New England. Who doesn’t love the change in seasons, the excitement of a new school year, neighbors returning from vacations, and the busyness of going from the lazy days of summer to the bustle of fall?
Growing up in Mattapan, the microcosm of my world that also included Dorchester and Roxbury, I recently found myself thinking back to autumn as a special time.
I remember, like everyone else, being fascinated as the leaves started changing color. We even brought some of them to school to share. Days were still warm and nights became colder. For the most part, like in any community, kids were still excited to be back in school, to see friends and to learn special skills.
However, there once was an addition to our school year that some of us may remember: early released time. I’m not exactly sure how that started but it only lasted a year. The educational opportunity was voluntary and lessons were taken out of the school building. Unfortunately, every time there is something that seemingly connects education with religion, the separation of church and state creates friction and challenges. The program lasted one year in Boston and probably most of the country.
Looking back, I realized I loved that program. Although it was only an hour out of the school building one day a week – which included walking to and from the Roger Walcott School to Temple Beth Hillel on Morton Street – there wasn’t time for much in-depth education. But, I can still render a terrific Modeh Ani, the prayer that allows us to start the day with gratitude.
One of my fun things was shopping on Saturday night with my mother when all the Jewish-owned stores on Blue Hill Avenue were open after Shabbat. I especially loved the crisp cool evenings as mom walked and I excitedly skipped along beside her most often dressed in warm clothes, a knitted cap on my head and a scarf wrapped around my neck as the weather changed.
I loved the nights when the sky was filled with stars and I could trace the outline of the Big and Little Dipper with my mittened hand. As is the way of children, I pretended that this panorama was all because of me. If I shut my eyes, it would all be gone. When I opened them, the scene was back again in the night sky. It didn’t take long for me to know I had no control over anything.
Before we knew it, as the trees lost their leaves, my Aunt Sarah’s grounds were covered with pignuts. If you had the patience to pick the little “meat” out of the complicated inside, you could eat it. Many of the boys who stopped by my aunt’s house opposite the Solomon Lewenberg School on Outlook Road picked up pignuts and wrapped them in handkerchiefs to hit the ankles of the girls at Franklin Field during the High Holidays. Fortunately, most of the boys just made knots in theirs.
The High Holidays quickly passed and it was time for all the other good things like eating in a sukkah, shaking the lulav and listening to its unique sound, and smelling the strong lemony scent of the etrog. Sukkot was followed by Simchat Torah, when children marched up and down the aisles in the shul holding paper flags topped off by an apple.
My fondest memory is walking inside the Ahabat Sholom synagogue on Church Street in Lynn when we visited my grandmother, Bubbe Finkle. Every time as we were leaving, she would call out to my mother, “Shribe a postal card.” (Write a post card.)
At one time, many of us didn’t own a telephone – something today’s kids, with their iPhones, tablets, computers, and every other means of communication take for granted. And, often when one did get a phone, it might have been shared as a party line with someone else. Forget security in those days.
I must admit, however, those were memories I still hold dear. They were my childhood reflections but they were different for my two boys growing up in Danvers. There is no synagogue, even though the purpose of our Danvers Jewish Couples Club was to eventually have a temple right in our own community. It never happened. Children were being named, bar and bat mitzvahs already were being held in synagogues in different communities, which also meant Jewish weddings were taking place in temples in other communities. Thoughts of a temple in Danvers were soon forgotten.
But joining a temple like Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody (now Temple Tiferet Shalom) expanded the horizons of not just the children but their parents as well. Our Sunday school carpools brought new friends. Jewish holidays became more important when shared. Children and their parents became more knowledgeable about their own religion and tolerant of others.
And that’s how long-lasting friendships began.
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.