Al Muskovitz recounts instances of sneaking out of services and more as a youngster during the High Holidays.
A few weeks ago, I sat at the annual pre-High Holiday writers meeting in the conference room at the offices of the Jewish News, trying desperately to contribute to the story ideas being bantered about for this Rosh Hashanah edition.
While my esteemed award-winning colleagues were coming up with intellectual, thought-provoking topics, I can’t express the angst I was feeling trying to come up with something worthy of putting in the High Holidays issue that wouldn’t get me written out of the Book of Life. Then again, most columns I write put me at risk.
I’ve gotten a whole new level of joy from the High Holidays as a father than I did as a kid. I mean, nothing compares to sitting in shul and looking down the aisle at my wife, and now adult children, and reflecting on how lucky I am. Made even more rewarding if I had secured a great getaway parking space.
Speaking of getaways … while I was the furthest thing from a troublemaker as a little boy, there was something about attending High Holiday services at Adat Shalom more than 50 years ago on Curtis in Detroit that brought out the mischievousness in me.
Unlike today’s more evolved and engaging children’s services, back then, the kids’ services were held in cramped, hot, chaotic classrooms while our parents were sequestered in what was then considered forbidden Days of Awe territory for children (insert echo) … The Main Sanctuary!
Those in charge of us kids had to feel like they were herding cats — or Katz — if you prefer.
The only time things settled down in those sessions was when we were forewarned that we were about to be visited by (insert echo) … the rabbi!
In my day, that was the distinguished and beloved Rabbi Jacob Segal, who served the congregation for 30 years, until illness cut short his tenure. Perhaps you can relate to this, but back in the day, at least to me, the rabbis seemed, forgive me, a little scarier, and I say that as a term of endearment.
To this impressionable and chronically nervous youngster, the rabbi represented the epitome of authority and when he arrived at our High Holiday children service, it seemed, in the eyes of this child, as serious as when Moses descended Mt. Sinai. And, remember, Moses wasn’t happy when he (sing) came around the mountain when he came. The rabbi approached in breathtaking fashion, much like the dinosaur in Jurassic Park, each step leaving a ripple effect in its wake. He added a little extra “awe” in the Days of Awe.
I plotted and broke out of children services on a few occasions, usually walking to a store on Livernois where I was first introduced to those tiny little wax Coke-looking bottles that had juice in them. You’d drink the juice and then chew on the wax. Yep, I was a High Holiday escaped convict. A real renegade.
Then there’s the time — I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old — when I snuck out of the children’s Rosh Hashanah service and decided to surprise my parents by being a big boy and walking by myself to Grandma Helen and Grandpa Sam’s house a few miles away for the post-service meal. The only problem was, the meal was being served at Grandma Molly and Grandpa Isadore’s house.
My version of Home Alone ended when one of my brothers assigned to the search team found me an hour later perched patiently on the wrong grandparents’ stoop. You know you’re getting old when you use the word stoop in a sentence. By the way, I was not afforded the overjoyed welcome from my parents that Macaulay Culkin received when he was found.
Meanwhile, my High (Anxiety) Holiday nerves would revisit me years later when, as an “adult,” I was given the honor of lifting the Torah for all the congregation to see. Of course, it being a new year, we’re talking about a Torah that was weighted completely to one side. Drop it and the entire congregation would have to fast.
What do we learn from this? If you’re going to drop a Torah, drop it on Yom Kippur. You’re already fasting. And that suggestion may have just sealed my Yom Kippur fate.
L’Shanah tovah tikatevu.
Alan Muskovitz is a writer, voice-over/acting talent, speaker, and emcee. Visit his website at laughwithbigal.com,“Like” Al on Facebook and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.