When we were kids (it was a long time ago), September meant the end of summer. It also meant the start of a new school year. The start of a new school year meant new clothes. New clothes meant that on the first day of school, you immediately fell into one of two different groups- the cool kids or the rest of us. The cool kids had cool clothes. The rest of us had practical clothes, often times deliberately too big so that we might “grow into them.” Worse, horror of horrors, we had hand-me-downs from older siblings. If you wore hand-me-downs, you hung your head in shame, and hoped that no one could see you.
Sneakers, called gym shoes, were not allowed in school- only in gym. Most of us either wore P F Flyers or Keds. Really cool kids wore Chuck Taylor, Converse All Star High Tops. We called them limousines for the feet.
We had school clothes, play clothes, and synagogue/holiday clothes. I guess Gentiles had Church/holiday clothes. Same idea, different name. After school, we changed into our play clothes, because we would have been a crime statistic had we gone outside to play in our school clothes.
We also had school shoes (eminently practical, and, again, often slightly too large). We had play shoes, with scuff proof toes. We had synagogue shoes. Those were the nice ones. Those were the ones you actually did not mind wearing.
The best part of the new school year, was going shopping for new holiday clothes. With Rosh Hashana on the horizon, it was time to go to Robert Hall (as I write, their theme song plays in my head) or Sears to buy a cheap suit, a nice tie, and a white shirt or two for the holy days.
Buying school supplies was a blast. We needed a three ring binder and lined binder paper. You needed reinforcements to put around the binder holes so the paper did not tear out of the binder. You needed pens, pencils, erasers, protractors, glue, crayons, maybe a pencil case or a zipper bag for same that attached to the rings in your binder. A few of those famous black, marble notebooks were always in order, too.
If you were going to Hebrew School, you also had to buy a machberet- a Hebrew notebook. A picture of Maimonides always graced the cover. Why Maimonides? That one is simple. Maimonides was both a doctor and a rabbi. That would be every Jewish mother’s dream come true.
Supermarkets packed your groceries in large, brown bags. Once you had your school books, those bags got transformed into book covers. Rich kids had real book covers. The rest of us had supermarket bag covers.
There was a life lesson in all of that. You just do not walk into school on the first day of the school year without some serious preparation. Similarly, you don’t just show up in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, sit back, and say, “Ok rabbi/cantor, inspire me.”
Pencils come with erasers. Even so, we also always bought a large eraser to boot. We knew we would make mistakes in the year ahead, so we prepared.
Prepare for Rosh Hashanah. OK, Robert Hall no longer exists, but the rest still obtains. Review your life of this past year. Make amends with those whom you have hurt or offended. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? Resolve to do better.
Get ready for Rosh Hashanah by getting your life in order. One of the prayers we shall repeat on Rosh Hashanah tells us that on Rosh Hashanah God writes a fate for us, and that fate is sealed in our Book of Life on Yom Kippur. The prayer tells us that God knows who will live, and who will die. Who will be hungry and who will be sated. Who will grow rich, and who will grow poor. Who will be ill and who will enjoy health. The prayer goes on and on. It is the end, however, that is most instructive. After all of the possibilities, we read that “prayer, repentance, and deeds of righteousness” can avert the severe decree.
Prepare for the new year, and may you be written and inscribed in the Book of Life for health, happiness, fulfillment, love, some measure of riches, family, and time to enjoy it all.