I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook and came across a post from Ilford Federation Synagogue. It was just a picture of a couple of seats with the words reserved on them, but it felt as if I’d been transported back in a time machine.
There was comfort there. The long boring day that was spent almost entirely in shul, apart from a quick afternoon walk to Valentine’s Park. My parents would follow the service. I’d go to the children’s service for part of the day and the rest would be spent running up and down the stairs or playing hopscotch on the driveway with friends outside the shul.
Before I started fasting (after my Bat Mitzva at 12) my mum would take me home briefly in the middle of the day to eat. My father would stay in shul the whole day. There was one year it was different though.
When I was ten year’s old I spent Yom Kippur at my grandparent’s house and on the morning of Yom Kippur I was alone in the house with Omama. She had just made me a cup of tea when the pains started. I remember her words clearly “I feel ill Debbie, I feel sick”. I didn’t know what to do and to this day I still don’t know how the ambulance came, how my father came home. I know my uncle had visited earlier that morning – had he came back maybe?
In any case I remember the ambulance came and I was left alone in the house crying, but not really understanding why. No one had died in my life before that day and it seemed impossible that Omama, could leave me. She was so much part of my life. We would bake together – she was a wonderful cook and made amazing Viennese cakes that despite inheriting her cookbooks I’ve never been able to replicate.
But then, I thought back to the night before, and I believe very much that she had known she was going to die. Omama suffered from insomnia. When I slept over in her house, I would lie on her bed and she would tell me stories from her life. Stories of Vienna. Stories from Londonderry, where she and my father had spent time during the war.
And then there were stories of London after the war, and the cats they had kept – first Suzy and then Kitty. In all those stories though, Omama had never mentioned any person dying. Accept for on that one night – the night before she died, Omama told me about the day her mother died, and how Mutter had not asked about my father, her little Walterle, on that day.
Then Omama looked at me and said, “I wonder if when I die, I won’t ask about you?” I believe with those words Omama was trying to tell me that her time was almost up.
Yom Kippur holds special meaning to me today as it’s my Omama’s yarzheit (anniversary of her death). This year I probably won’t make it to shul – but I’ll fast and reflect and remember.