July 18, 2013 by Katia

‘Mama, what was the name of that guy in Ancient Ebgypt (sic)?’


‘No. What did we build for him again?’

‘Oh, pyramids for the pharaoh.’

‘What’s a Spynx (sic)? And what about the Greeks?’


This exchange goes on and on and almost inevitably gets derailed into North American history territory when he tries to put these pieces together, and I , his Israel-born mommy, feel overwhelmed by the weight of not one but at least two historical legacies that my husband and I are responsible for relaying and merging into a coherent homogenous one, thus rescuing my favourite four-year-old’s confused brain from this fragmented historical chaos.

In my previous incarnation, years and continents away, it was me who used to call someone else ‘mama’. I also had a Babooshka, my mom’s mom and a Ninulya, my grandma’s sister Nina, whom I affectionately called that. I was an only child and the apple of their eye.  Things were a lot clearer for me than they are for Four Year Old. Yes, my family had a past in a different country, but historically and religiously we shared our present with the rest of the population. Despite not being the typical married plus two family unit, we shared, as any other family would, our own inside jokes, rituals and routines, and through them we’ve created memorable family moments and traditions that I remember longingly.

Some of our rituals were daily, some only happened once a year. No matter what on January 13th we would welcome guests to my mom’s apartment, where we would gather to remember my great grandfather. On August 12th you would find us on a Jerusalem-bound bus, headed to a commemorative monument to other victims of Stalin’s regime in a little park, a part of which was converted to a playground, where we would participate in a surrealistic scene, listening to an official speak about the horrors of that regime amidst swings and slides and dog poop. No matter what sometime in mid May we would gather around the TV, make our manual low tech pre-Excel charts and individually decide how to allocate our points from 1-12 to the performing countries competing in the Eurovision song contest. No matter what once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement usually in September or October, we would fast and then head to the synagogue together to listen to the Shofar.

Yom Kippur and the entire period leading up to it is a time for introspection and moral self-assessment. You reflect on ‘sins between man and friend’ as we call them and on ‘sins between man and God’ and ask for forgiveness. Come Yom Kippur we fast from sunset to sunset the next day while our actions are being assessed and judged. The blowing of the Shofar symbolizes that the verdict was given and we wish each other Gmar Hatima Tova, a good final sealing. And there you have it, my own Judaism for Dummies version. This is also the facet of Yom Kippur that my sons will probably become familiar with. But there’s an insider’s scoop known only to those who’ve experienced Yom Kippur in Israel. Come the Day of Atonement the city noises slowly die down and are replaced by the voices of children. Public transport, restaurants, stores and businesses shut down eventually being joined by private transport. And that is when the children take over the streets and the city becomes their kingdom. They ride their roller blades and bikes on the street through deserted roads and highways or simply walk in loud teenage packs from one part of the city to another, while the grownups are fasting or not, depending on how religiously devout they are. On the next day when the sun sets everyone heads to the synagogue through the still car-deserted streets.  My sons won’t get to know any of that.

My trip to the synagogue with the three women will most likely be filed in an archive under the folder “mom – Israel nostalgia” and even if they do decide to observe the holiday they will never get to join us for that walk that whether you were religiously inclined or not felt festive and otherworldly. To get to the synagogue we would head down the street to a little tree shade covered dirt path leading to its backyard and then along with other women of different ages we would assume our spots by the large windows opening to the outside and wait until one of the praying men would open them. When the windows opened we heard this, a part of the prayer they’d be singing and I would start asking. Requesting. Praying silently in my head until I heard the Shofar.

Walking with us that day, every year, making their way to the synagogue were tens maybe hundreds of other people – hence the lack of room inside. Neighbours normally wearing sandals and shorts were wearing blindingly white button down dress shirts and a yarmulke whether in everyday life they were religious or not. You would inevitably run into people you’ve shared some childhood memories with, old and new neighbours, people you disliked and couldn’t remember why, people who worked in local businesses and you weren’t used to seeing not in their uniform, people you had never met before but everyone knew why everyone else was there and everyone was an extra in someone else’s family ritual, in the creation of someone else’s perception of the holiday.

I often pray in my own home but can’t in clear conscience say that I learned something at synagogue that I didn’t know before. It would be hypocritical, having gone there once a year and contrived, but it did contribute to my sense of identity as a member of my family and as a member of my people.

It seems that a major part of what makes a ritual a ritual is meaning, repetitiveness, continuity and eventually a tradition is created. So what happens when you move continents? I know, I know. Families are all about creating new traditions together and I know we will, but the continuity component will be missing. How do you initiate your child into your past when you have to spend 24 hours traveling to walk with him down that dirt path?


This post was written for Finish The Sentence Friday on the topic “At Church (place of worship) I’ve learned”. Please visit these great ladies at:

Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic

Stephanie at Mommy, for Real

Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?

Dawn at Dawn’s Disaster

34 thoughts on “Nostalgia

  1. I too have to start instilling some faith in religion into my own girls very soon and even though we live in the same country even same city for years, I have been remiss on this and trust me I am going to have to start to change this one real soon. So I can relate just slightly to this. Thanks for linking up with us this week and sharing!

  2. That was fascinating, Katia! I’m not surprised- I thought you would probably bring something brilliant to the table this week. I was completely entranced reading your description of all the people joining together, and I was literally picturing it in my mind. So vivid. I really loved reading this.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Steph! I hoped I’d be able to recreate that feeling, because I know it’s something so unique to Israel that as I say in the post, I doubt anyone outside of it got to experience. Glad you were able to picture some of this! 🙂

  3. This was fascinating and beautifully written. Yom Kippur sounds like a wonderful time in Jerusalem.

    It’s an interesting conundrum you now face, and I have confidence that you’ll rise to the challenge. The song you shared is beautiful, and when all words come to naught, I find it helpful to turn to music.

    I can’t understand a single word, but my soul is soaring.

    • Katia says:

      The song is beautiful, I agree. It was actually a totally different part of that prayer that was sung and that we always joined in on, but I wasn’t able to find that on You Tube. Too bad, still so glad it made you feel the exact same way I feel whenever I listen to it.

  4. karen says:

    wow that was beautifully written…I know you will create new traditions with your family and then pass them on…I think as we have our own family we need to incorporate our faith and traditions that work best with our families.

    • Katia says:

      Very true, Karen. Thank you so much for the words of encouragement and I’m sure we’ll create new traditions that will be just as meaningful to my sons.

  5. Lovely. I agree our family traditions are so important. It can be so hard for us adults to grasp these concepts about the Absolute, so it’s even harder to convey their meaning to children. Lovely, Katia, as always 🙂

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Again, another fabulous post by one of my favorite bloggers. I love when you talk about your upbringing and the differences between your childhood and your son’s. One of my best friends is from Finland and she struggles with a lot of the same things you do, trying to figure out how to integrate her culture into the deep southern Louisiana culture she’s raising her child in. Every summer, she takes her daughter to Finland for 8 weeks and she has been speaking Finnish to her since she was born. Her daughter is 3 and is now bilingual. I think it’s beautiful when they speak in Finnish together. In our southern town, it’s like they have their own special language that only they can understand. She’s doing a good job of integrating that part of her being with her current reality of deep south housewife. But I know it’s something she constantly thinks about and struggles with. She is in Finland right now and is actually keeping a journal chronically her daughter’s interaction, language, and integration into the Finnish culture this summer. I’m going to post it as a series of guest posts this fall. I bet you’ll love it. Have a great weekend! See you next week!

    • Katia says:

      I LOVE that you’re a Southern lady. I had no idea and listening to southern accents is one of the things that makes me happiest in the world. Here’s a really embarrassing confession. One day I was playing with 4 Year Old and I accidentally created a super hero with a southern accent character. Now at least once a day my son approaches me: “super hero?” he asks and then I have to put my fake southern accent on and a few times I caught him playing with his legos and using that accent. I am probably (definitely) totally butchering an authentic southern accent but it makes me so happy to listen to him talk that way! 😀

      I’m thrilled you like this post and I can’t wait to read yours. Thanks so much for sharing the story about your Finnish friend. There was a time when I spoke Russian to my son and he spoke it back and then after he started daycare and with the introduction of another language, Hebrew – which my husband and I speak to each other, Russian went totally down the drain, so I was reading about your friend, admiring her and feeling a little sad I wasn’t able to do the same. I would absolutely LOVE to read that piece and am very interested to learn more about your series!

  7. Kerri says:

    I got back into the routine of Church and Worship when Allie was old enough for CCD. She is slowly learning our faith and while she might not enjoy it yet, I see a day in her future when she begins passing our traditions onto her own children.

    Wonderful post. I felt like I was on the journey with you and your precious family

    • Katia says:

      Oh Kerri, you put a lump in my throat. Thank you very much, this is exactly what I was hoping for. To make the experience relatable.

  8. findingninee says:

    This is brilliant and wonderful and so full of amazing imagery. I could just picture you walking down the dirt path covered with shade trees, waiting for the window to open and hearing that prayer. Absolutely beautiful. I love when you compare your childhood to your son’s. I didn’t grow up Jewish but my step-mom is Jewish and I love some of the holidays – especially when she says “If I’ve done anything to offend you this year, please forgive me.” Such a perfect expression of the true meaning of religion. I love this post. Truly loved it.
    And I do know that one day, you will travel that 24 hours to share your past with your son and that both of your lives will be richer for it. Cheers, friend.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, my friend! I am going to travel with him in a month. It was a spontaneous decision. While we won’t be there for Yom Kippur (I think…) I may take him there. It’s going to be very meaningful for me to show him my childhood room, my city etc.

  9. nataliedeyoung says:

    I don’t have anything specific to say other than reading this was a pleasure. 🙂

  10. It is strange when you think about things like this … in one respect, it’s good that over time, races and cultures have begun mixing, and with that and ease of travel, etc., their religion, traditions, food, fashion, etc. have intermingled as well, but it will be tough for future generations to hold onto any sort of “shared history.” Everything changes so rapidly now. Just a few generations back, most people grew up in one place and stayed in the area around their usual friends/family/church, etc. There is less and less of that now.

    • Katia says:

      I agree, of course, that it’s a great thing that races and cultures are mixing. I just find it hard to accept that there is no physical continuity, so to speak, between my childhood experiences and my son’s. 🙂

  11. Your childhood rituals sound just wonderful- very melodic and introspective. Blending cultures is what will make the world a peaceful place with no Stalin to march us all off to ignorance.

    • Katia says:

      I love how you put it, Cheryl! Blending of cultures and acceptance is how we battle new Stalins. Couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂

  12. Dana says:

    I am listening to Barbra as I type this comment – a beautiful voice to sing such a moving prayer. It’s one of my favorites. I so enjoyed your post, Katia – I never knew how different Yom Kippur is in Israel than it is in North America. It’s difficult to raise my children Jewish when their friends just see Yom Kippur as a day off of school. I can only imagine the added challenge of your traditions and rituals being thousands of miles away. But anything you share with your son about growing up in Israel will be a rare gift that most children will never get.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much for such an encouraging message, my friend. I’m sure you’re right and I do hope that the stories I share on my traditions will be viewed as a gift instead of a yawn. This will probably come with age 🙂

  13. Rich Rumple says:

    Really in depth and meaningful. Extremely interesting to get some of the specifics, plus, a personal view all in one. As always, exceptionally well written. The blending of families and cultures is always difficult. Still, it allows one to have such a tremendous perspective. Really did enjoy this!

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Rich! I truly missed your lovely and thoughtful comments while you were away. You are totally right about the advantage of a more panoramic perspective. I’ll remind myself of that next time I get nostalgic and start lamenting. 🙂

  14. Jen says:

    This is such a great post Katia. You have touched on what I believe to be an essential truth of Judaism. Judaism is not a religion, it’s an ethnicity. We are bound together by a common past and a life of joined rituals. You have really expressed that so poetically.

  15. Interesting Post, from many perspectives, that of a religious heritage, a set of cultural reference points and the personal history (in the sense) of a family tradition. …all in the service of passing along to the next generation tools to help in the universal task of dealing with life and coping with death.
    Your Post brings us the sense of the reality of (the) traditions, the ways of expressing (an) identity both personal and spiritual.
    That the Past is carried into the future by the tales of the old to the young is endlessly fascinating.

    (Here at the Doctrine we are always talking about ‘how we relate ourselves to the world around us’, constantly making the point that this is not the same as ‘how we relate to the world’.
    Your Post today definitely has that vibe, the idea that there is much more to how we relate ourselves to the world around us than simply, ‘me, my wants and my needs’.)

    Thought provoking, yo.

    • Katia says:

      Thought provoking, yo, has to be the best comment I’ve received on this. Thank you Clark!

      As usual reading your comment made me understand my own post a little better, so thank you very much for that as well. I am completely serious, by the way. I will be rereading you comment, because it is wonderful.

  16. […] ‘Mama, what was the name of that guy in Ancient Ebgypt (sic)?’ ‘Moses.’ ‘No. What did we build for him again?’ ‘Oh, pyramids for the pharaoh.’ ‘What’s a Spynx (sic)? And what about the Greeks?’ ‘Greeks?  […]

  17. Oh my gosh, how I relate to this post, Katia. Although you and I come from different cultures and religious backgrounds, I too experienced feeling displaced from my family’s traditions. For me, it happened when I was a child. My family moved from Pennsylvania to Kansas. My father got a professorship at the University of Kansas and none of our family lived there. I really missed those big Christmases together, and going to church together. You are so right about the repetition and continuity of a ritual. I can’t tell you how much loss I felt when that was taken away from me. I still feel the pain thinking about it now.

  18. Jean says:

    This was so sharp. Your last line about travelling 24 hours to walk down that dirt road. Love it. Most of my students were from Mexico and I saw a continual struggle with their families on how to instill what they held so dear from their original culture while living in a culture that went against many things they valued despite the fact that they wanted to be here. It’s an incredible upheaval to move from one loved culture to another and then raise children to straddle both. I can’t imagine.

  19. […] Saturday last week we’ve celebrated Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. Being away from home has changed the way in which I celebrate the Jewish […]

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